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Bd. of Educ. v. Regional Bd. of Trustees

OPINION FILED MARCH 27, 1980.

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF AVOCA SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 37, COOK COUNTY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF COOK COUNTY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RICHARD L. CURRY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE JOHNSON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied April 25, 1980.

This is an appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County under the Administrative Review Act confirming the allowance of the detachment of certain territory from Cook County School District No. 37 and annexation of the same territory to School District No. 39. The complaint for review was filed by the board of education of Avoca School District No. 37 and a number of individual plaintiffs. The matter was appealed to the circuit court after a hearing by the Regional Board of School Trustees of Cook County (Regional Board) in which detachment was allowed. The validity of the detachment proceedings was challenged on two grounds: First, the petition filed with the Regional Board did not contain a sufficient number of valid signatures; and second, the evidence did not support the Regional Board's decision. The court remanded the cause to the Regional Board for determination of the sufficiency of the signatures to the petition for the change of boundaries. The matter was returned to the circuit court which confirmed the order of the Regional Board allowing the detachment. We affirm the trial court's decision.

On September 7, 1977, a petition was filed with the secretary of the Regional Board requesting detachment of the subject territory from Avoca schools (School District No. 37) and its annexation to the Wilmette schools (School District No. 39). Pursuant to section 7-1 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 7-1), the petition contained the signatures of 172 individuals, more than the necessary two-thirds of the legal voters of the territory proposed to be detached. On December 23, 1977, a withdrawal of 35 signatures of persons who had signed the original petition was filed with the secretary of the Regional Board. In April 1978, a document withdrawing the previous withdrawal of signatures from the original petition was filed with the intent that the signatures on the original petition remain. There were 15 signatures on that document. In the same month an additional petition was filed which contained 13 new signatures.

The objectors to the detachment proceedings challenged the sufficiency of the signatures on the petitions after considering withdrawals and reinstatements. Following a full hearing, the Regional Board held that September 7, 1977, the petition filing date, was the date to be utilized for voter eligibility and determination of the petition's sufficiency. The Regional Board accepted the petition as filed and appointed a hearing officer, Richard J. Martwick, who heard the evidence on May 9, 1978.

The area involved in this case is a neighborhood of 107 single family homes located in the village of Wilmette. The Wilmette School District No. 39 is a district predominated by residents of the village of Wilmette. Evidence established that the petitioning area, located in the Avoca School District, comprised 2.4 percent of Avoca's total assessed valuation.

The children from the petitioning area can walk to the Wilmette elementary schools, the average distance from any house in the area to that school being only 2 1/2 blocks. The farthest distance is 6 blocks. Many of the homes in the area are adjacent to the elementary school property.

The Avoca elementary school is over 2 1/2 miles from the petitioning area. Travel from the area to the Avoca school requires crossing heavily traveled thoroughfares. Accident reports from the village of Wilmette indicate that traffic accidents occurred at an average rate of 1 every 3 days over the routes taken by Avoca school buses.

It was further established that the petitioning area is associated with the Wilmette School District for tax purposes. The Cook County assessor's 1976 neighborhood map includes the detached territory with other areas of the Wilmette School District and none of the Avoca School District. The Wilmette Tax Action Group, a civic organization that conducted analysis of real estate taxes within the village of Wilmette, placed the area with the Wilmette School District.

Residents of the petitioning area testified they identify with Wilmette rather than Avoca. One resident testified that her child's recreation center is Thornwood Park, which is two blocks from her home and located in the Wilmette School District. She indicated that all of her child's recreational activities are geographically located within Wilmette. Another resident testified that her children were unable to fully utilize the park district's activities during the school year because those activities are coordinated with Wilmette and not Avoca.

It was established that all residents of the petitioning territory voted either at Wilmette's Harper Elementary School or at other precincts within the Wilmette School District.

Evidence was offered concerning discipline problems within the Avoca schools. A special report issued by the Avoca district revealed there had been a problem throughout the district in the spring of 1977. The problem was reported to have included attacks and assaults on students and teachers along with defacement of school property.

Having heard the evidence, the Regional Board voted to detach the territory from Avoca and annex it to Wilmette. A petition for rehearing was denied, and Avoca filed its complaint for judicial review in the circuit court of Cook County. The complaint alleged that the Regional Board should have counted all withdrawals and reinstatements in its determination of the sufficiency of the petition, and that the decision to detach the area was not supported by the evidence. On August 22, 1978, the circuit court of Cook County, without deciding the merits, remanded the cause to the Regional Board for determination of the petition's sufficiency. The court directed that September 7, 1977, be the date for determining eligibility status of all legal voters in the territory and any withdrawals, reinstatements and additions would be counted if filed before June 1, 1978.

On remand and after further hearing, the Regional Board determined that after counting all valid signatures, 144 voters, or 70 percent of the eligible voters residing in the petitioning area, signed the detachment petition. This met the jurisdictional requirements of the ...


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