APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon.
ROBERT J. STEIGMANN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This case concerns a petition to detach 30 sections of Sidney Township from Community Unit School District No. 7 and attach to Homer Community Consolidated School District No. 208. The regional board of school trustees of Champaign County denied the petition, but on administrative review, the circuit court reversed and ordered the detachment-annexation. The board, Unit 7, and the objectors to the petition appeal.
Following routine procedures, filings, and objections to the petition to detach, a public hearing was held before the regional board where considerable documentary and testimonial evidence was submitted. Thereafter, the board denied the petition and made a single finding of fact: "It is not to the best interests of the schools of the area nor the educational welfare of the pupils that would be served to grant the prayer of the petition."
Administrative review was sought and, pursuant to stipulation, the court remanded the cause to the Board for further findings of fact. Additional specific findings by the board were subsequently filed with the circuit court. Following a final hearing, the court found that the regional board had abused its discretion, that its findings were contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, reversed the board, and ordered the detachment-annexation.
This appeal essentially rides upon the visceral issue of whether the trial court erred in ruling that an accounting between the school districts was permitted under section 7-15 of the School Code. Because if an accounting is not allowed by the statute, then we need not address the secondary issue of whether the decision of the board was against the manifest weight of the evidence. This is so since the rejection of the detachment by the board was in large measure premised on its determination that no accounting of the funds and assets involved could occur under the law.
The circuit court ruled the other way. Let us see which was right.
Whether or not an accounting would be authorized as to the proposed boundary changes hinges on construction of section 7-15 which provides:
"Whenever a part of a district is included within the boundaries of a newly created district the county board of school trustees shall cause an accounting to be had between the districts affected by the change in boundaries as provided in Sections 7-16 to 7-26 of this Act, each inclusive; however, there shall be no accounting made after a mere change in boundaries when no new district is created." (Emphasis added.) Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 7-15.
All parties agree that no new school district was created or contemplated by the proceedings involved here. The trial court found that the language "mere change in boundaries" meant an "insignificant" change in boundaries and, concluding that the change here proposed as a "significant" as opposed to an "insignificant" change, ruled that section did not preclude an accounting here. Objectors contend that the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous and that no construction thereof is necessary, asserting that the provision plainly prohibits accountings in cases where no new district is created. The regional board likewise contends that the plain language of section 7-15 prohibits an accounting as to the proposed boundary changes here, pointing to the plain meaning of the word "mere," the legislative history, court decisions, and language of other related provisions of the School Code.
Plaintiffs, on the other hand, maintain that the language of the provision is ambiguous and when the terms are given their plain meaning in accordance with reaching just and equitable, rather than unjust and absurd, results, interpretation of section 7-15 permits an accounting. Furthermore, they urge that the prohibition of an accounting here would be contrary to the ...