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Board of Educ. v. Special Charter School Dist.

DECEMBER 16, 1971.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. EDWARD E. HAUGENS, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff filed an action for replevin of twenty school buses allegedly wrongfully detained by the defendant school district. The defendant school district subsequently leased the buses to defendant Peoria City Lines, Inc., a transit company. The plaintiff school districts are in Peoria County and the chain of events leading to this lawsuit started in November of 1964 when by referendum plaintiff's predecessor in title, Richwood Community High School District No. 312, was annexed to the city of Peoria and by operation of law to the defendant, District No. 150, a special charter school district. Proceedings were commenced to prevent the automatic annexation of District 312 and while these proceedings were pending the school boards of Districts 312 and 150 entered into an agreement dated May 26, 1965, agreeing to the annexation of the greater portion of District 312 to District 150.

The validity of the procedure and the agreement was tested in court and we resolved that issue in favor of District 150 and finding that the annexation proceedings and the agreement were valid in Fuller et al. v. Board of Education of City of Peoria School District 150, 83 Ill. App.2d 147, 227 N.E.2d 553.

The May 26, 1965, agreement was entered into for the purpose of permitting this partial annexation of District 312 and provided for the joint use of the school buildings and grounds for the school year 1965-66. It called for the proportioning of expenses between the districts for the school year, the replacement of board members of District 312, the meeting of the two boards to determine boundaries, the rights of students to the continued use of the high school and other matters. It also required District 312 to deposit a resolution with an appointed escrow agent authorizing the annexation and further authorizing the County Board of School Trustees to deliver its deed "conveying all of the Richwoods Community High School buildings and grounds" to the defendant district. The agreement made no mention of personal property transfer. It should be noted that District 150 had no claim to the property until the end of the school year 1965-1966.

Plaintiff's evidence in the case consisted of the placing of certificates of title issued by the Secretary of State showing the vehicles registered in the name of "Richwoods Community High School" and certain letters demanding District 150 return the buses to District 312. The record is devoid of any demand on the part of District 312 for any other personal property owned by it prior to the annexation proceedings. From the record it appears that the personnel of District 312 were subsequently employed by District 150 and so far as we can ascertain District 150 took over all of the facilities, including books, supplies and equipment, and assumed all of the obligations under contracts with teachers and other personnel.

A hearing by the lower court without a jury resulted in a finding by the lower court that the plaintiff was the owner of the buses in question but dismissing the cause on a finding that the defendants did not wrongfully take or wrongfully detain the buses.

On June 30, 1966, a few days after the decision of the circuit court in Fuller v. Board of Education, supra, which decision we sustained, the two school boards met informally at the request of District 150's officers and the transfer of the facilities from District 312 to District 150 commenced. There was no formal ceremony connected with the proceedings, but on July 1 District 150 took over the operation of the schools formerly located in District 312. The meeting of the two boards was held to effect an orderly transition. It is noted that the buses were located in the school garage on real estate annexed into District 150.

Plaintiff's case is predicated solely on the proposition that its predecessor in title, District 312, owned the buses and no transfer of them was legally made. The question raised by plaintiff's theory is whether a school district does in fact "own" personal property in the strictest legal sense.

• 1 In People v. Deatherage, 401 Ill. 25, 81 N.E.2d 581, the Supreme Court said:

"The `property of the school district' is a phrase which is misleading. The district owns no property, all school facilities, such as grounds, buildings, equipment, etc., being in fact and law the property of the State and subject to the legislative will. [Emphasis added]."

• 2 Section 7-12 of the School Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1963, ch. 122, par. 7) provides:

"Upon the close of the then current school year during which any school district is annexed to another school district under any of the provisions of this article the terms of office of the school directors and board of education members of the annexed school district shall be terminated and the school board of the annexing district shall perform all the duties and have all of the powers of the school board of the annexed district. The annexing district as it is constituted on and after the time of such annexation shall receive all of the assets and assume all of the obligations and liabilities, including the bonded indebtedness, of the original annexing district and of the district annexed. * * *"

While it might be argued that this provision contemplates the annexation of an entire district and not to partial annexation, we feel that where, as here, all of the school facilities are located on the land annexed, this section of the statute is applicable where nothing to the contrary is shown.

• 3 It is noted that the preamble to the agreement between the parties of May 26, 1965, recited that the intent of the agreement was to carry out the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizens of District 312. The agreement was intended to facilitate the annexation and to conform with the wishes of the citizens in the district permitting certain areas that still wished, to stay out of District 150 and allowing the annexation of the rest. This was not and could not be an arms length transaction, for it was entered into by two boards each responsible to the citizens of the district and the state. When District 150 took over the buildings it must be presumed that they took over all the facilities necessary to properly operate the school. This included not only the buildings, buses, papers and books, but also the ...

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