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

OPINION FILED JULY 9, 1980.

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF JONESBORO COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 43, UNION COUNTY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

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



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Union County; the Hon. DON FOSTER, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE JONES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This appeal concerns the detachment of 5.73 acres in Union County from Jonesboro Community Consolidated School District No. 43 (Jonesboro) and annexation of them to Anna Community Consolidated School District No. 37 (Anna). A petition for detachment and annexation was filed with the Regional Board of School Trustees of Union County by the Anna district and William and Patricia Lewis, sole residents of the property in question, pursuant to section 7-1 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 7-1). The petition was granted. Upon administrative review in accordance with section 7-7 of the Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 7-7), the decision of the regional board was affirmed, and this appeal followed.

The facts are not in dispute. Petitioners reside within the city of Anna, three-tenths of a mile from the Anna elementary school. The corporate limits of Anna are not coterminous with the school district boundary between Jonesboro and Anna, however, the petitioners' residence lies within the Jonesboro school district. Petitioners bought their home knowing that the property was located in the Jonesboro district. Their prior residence was in the city of Anna, and their daughter attended grades one through six as a resident of the Anna district. Because their daughter, who is in seventh grade, wishes to continue in the Anna schools, petitioners have been paying tuition for her attendance there. Ninth grade students from both the Anna and Jonesboro districts attend a consolidated district high school located in Anna.

Petitioners argue that their proximity to the Anna school and their daughter's social ties there facilitate her academic and extracurricular interests and promote the family's involvement with the school. They do not contend that Anna's facilities or programs are superior to those of Jonesboro. They point out, however, that they are longtime residents of Anna and have social and economic ties to that community. The Jonesboro school building, which serves as both an elementary and junior high school, is approximately 2 miles from their home. But transportation would be available by the Jonesboro district to the Lewises' home. Petitioners' property has an assessed value of $33,693 and yields $657 annually in taxes to the Jonesboro district. According to counsel in the circuit court, the Jonesboro district's gross revenue from such taxes is approximately $150,000. In addition to the tax losses that Jonesboro would sustain from detachment, the district would be prevented from claiming State aid based on average daily attendance by the amount attributable to one additional student. The Anna district would gain from annexation $662 in taxes and approximately $856 in State aid.

Jonesboro opposes the petition on several grounds. The district alleges that detachment would erode their tax base and result in decreased tax revenues; that it would deprive them of attendance-based State aid to the extent of one student, petitioners' daughter; that it would upset the stability of their boundaries; and that it would create a precedent for further alterations of the district boundaries.

The test for granting detachment and annexation petitions was established by our supreme court in Oakdale Community Consolidated School District v. County Board of School Trustees (1957), 12 Ill.2d 190, 145 N.E.2d 736. The court stated, relying on statutory guidelines which have essentially remained unchanged:

"The welfare of the affected districts and their pupils as a whole must control rather than the wishes of a few, and such petitions granted only where the benefit derived by the annexing and affected areas clearly outweighs the detriment resulting to the losing district and the surrounding community as a whole." 12 Ill.2d 190, 193-94, 145 N.E.2d 736, 737.

In Oakdale the supreme court denied the petition because the evidence indicated that detachment would cause a serious depletion in the tax resources in the detaching districts and overcrowding in the annexing district. The proposed detachment would have removed 20% of one detaching district's assessed valuation and 10% of the other's.

• 1 The School Code also establishes that the decision must be controlled by factors affecting the districts and the student populace as a whole:

"The county board of school trustees shall hear evidence as to the school needs and conditions of the territory in the area within and adjacent thereto and as to the ability of the districts affected to meet the standards of recognition as prescribed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and shall take into consideration the division of funds and assets which will result from the change of boundaries and shall determine whether it is to the best interests of the schools of the area and the educational welfare of the pupils that such change in boundaries be granted * * *." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 7-6.

It does not appear that the requested detachment and annexation would have substantial financial effect on either district. However, it is only stating the obvious to say that every detachment results in some loss of tax base valuation to the district from which the land concerned is being detached. Here, the loss is minimal. To be a valid basis for denial of a detachment-annexation petition requires a showing that the resultant tax resource depletion would be a serious one. (Newman v. County Board of School Trustees (1974), 19 Ill. App.3d 584, 312 N.E.2d 35.) The slight reduction of the Jonesboro district's funding in this case would be partly offset by a slight reduction in expenditures through reduced enrollment.

Respondents urge that detachment from the Jonesboro district will set a precedent for similar petitions. But it has been held, and we agree, that a detachment petition cannot be denied because of the possibility of setting a precedent. Eble v. Hamilton (1977), 52 Ill. App.3d 550, 367 N.E.2d 788.

• 2 Since the record shows neither district will be affected in any substantial measure, the determination should turn solely on the welfare of the pupils in the area subjected to the detachment. (Bowman v. County Board of School Trustees (1974), 16 Ill. App.3d 1082, 307 N.E.2d 419; Newman.) Mere personal preference of the residents may be considered but is not alone controlling. (Burnidge v. County Board of School Trustees (1960), 25 Ill. App.2d 503, 167 N.E.2d 21; Eble v. Hamilton.) More than personal preference appears here. Obvious benefit would result from the shorter distance the Lewises' daughter and any future pupil living in the subject area would travel to school if the petition were granted. This benefit would be reflected in time, safety, effort, and expense. (Burnidge.) Further benefit appears in that "an identification with a school district in a child's natural community center will inevitably result in increased participation in school activities by the child and his parents. Such increased participation cannot but result in an improvement in the education picture of the entire area. By the same token, an unnatural identification would have an opposite result with a corresponding loss of participation and resulting poorer educational picture. In recognition of these facts the legislature made provision for proceedings to change the boundaries of existing districts." Burnidge, 25 Ill. App.2d 503, 509-10, 167 N.E.2d 21, 24.

The instant prepetition situation is analogous to the situation presented in Burnidge. The Lewises live in the town of Anna but within the Jonesboro district. They are distant a two-mile drive from the Jonesboro school but just a short walk from the Anna school. This is the sort of "unnatural identification" appropriately remedied by the system set up for change of existing district boundaries. For the same reason, granting the instant petition would result in the Anna district gaining ...


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