APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. THOMAS
W. VINSON, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE BARRY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied December 9, 1980.
This case comes to this court on appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Will County which, on administrative review, reversed the decision of hearing officer Joseph V. McKenna rendered under section 24-12 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 122, par. 24-12), and remanded the cause to the Illinois State Board of Education for a hearing de novo. There are a myriad of issues raised by the parties to this appeal, ranging from the constitutionality of section 24-12 of the School Code to whether the decision of hearing officer McKenna was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. However, as this case unfolds it will become apparent that only two issues are determinative: First, must the decision of a hearing officer rendered pursuant to section 24-12 of the School Code be accompanied by written findings; and second, if the answer to the first is in the affirmative, what is the proper disposition of a hearing officer's decision that is rendered devoid of any written findings on administrative review.
Briefly, the factual background of this case is as follows. Effective June 30, 1976, Faye File, a tenured teacher, was dismissed by the Board of Education of Valley View Community School District No. 365U, Will County, Illinois. Pending a hearing pursuant to section 24-12 of the School Code, Mrs. File was suspended without pay. Hearing officer Joseph V. McKenna was appointed to preside at Mrs. File's hearing, which commenced on September 28, 1976. The hearing lasted 13 days, which were spread over a nine-month period, and concluded May 6, 1977. All post-hearing briefs were filed by July 11, 1977.
On February 13, 1978, hearing officer McKenna wrote a letter to the assistant legal advisor of the Illinois State Board of Education, explaining that as a result of his heavy work load and the File hearing's length and complexity he would be unable to render a decision in the File case by February 21. He did, however, assure the Illinois State Board of Education that he would complete his work on this matter no later than April 30, 1978.
On May 30, 1978, the hearing officer wrote a second letter, this one to both the Illinois Office of Education and counsel for the litigants. McKenna stated in this letter that as a result of serious health problems and pending heart surgery he was rendering a decision without explanation, which was to follow as soon as he was able to return to work. The hearing officer ruled:
1. The dismissal of Faye File was not for just cause.
2. Mrs. File was to be reinstated, and, preferably, transferred to a position with new supervisors; and
3. Mrs. File was to receive one year of back pay in accordance with her contract with the local school district.
On June 23, 1978, the plaintiff Board of Education filed a complaint for administrative review under the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.) in the circuit court of Will County (No. W78G1791MR). Defendant File followed on July 5, 1978, with her complaint for administrative review in which she sought full salary for the entire period for which she was suspended (No. W78G1888MR). On January 31, 1979, these two cases were consolidated.
On July 11, 1979, the circuit court of Will County rendered its decision. Finding that the lack of written findings of fact by the hearing officer precluded judicial review of his decision, the circuit court held that "since there were no findings of fact by the Hearing Officer, and since the time has long expired for the supplying of such findings of fact, the Order of Joseph V. McKenna, Hearing Officer, of May 30, 1978, is reversed in whole, and held null and void, and this cause is remanded to the Illinois State Board of Education, so that a new and different Hearing Officer may be selected, and hearing de novo of the issues of this cause." It is from this judgment that both Mrs. File and the local board of education appealed.
"When this court reviews any decision of a circuit court which has handed down an opinion under the Administrative Review Act it is confronted with two questions: (1) Does the record show that the steps and procedures required by law were taken, and (2) If so, is or is not the decision of the board or administrative agency against the manifest weight of the evidence?" (Waller v. Board of Education (1973), 13 Ill. App.3d 1056, 1058, 302 N.E.2d 190, 192.) Before we reach these issues, however, two threshold issues must be met and discussed. The first concerns the constitutionality of section 24-12 of the School Code; the second concerns the finality of hearing officer McKenna's decision.
In both the circuit court and this court, the School Board has taken the position that section 24-12 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 122, par. 24-12) is unconstitutional because it violates article X, section 1 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. X, § 1). Article X, section 1, states in pertinent part that "[t]he State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services." The school board contends that if the ultimate power to dismiss tenured faculty rests with an impartial hearing officer under section 24-12, control over the schools by local boards of education will be lost and an "efficient system" of high quality education becomes a goal impossible to attain.
Prior to August 26, 1975, removal or dismissal of a tenured teacher for a reason other than a decrease in the number of teachers employed or discontinuance of a particular teaching service was accomplished by a majority vote of all members of a local school board upon specific charges and if requested, a hearing before the local board (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 122, par. 24-12). Although the Illinois Supreme Court found that the dismissal procedure did not violate due process in the absence of proof that an actual prejudice to the dismissed teacher existed (Gilliland v. Board of Education (1977), 67 Ill.2d 143, 365 N.E.2d 322), concern was voiced elsewhere that a procedure whereby a local board functioned as prosecutor, witness, judge, and jury was too susceptible to abuse (Gilliland v. Board of Education (1976), 35 Ill. App.3d 861, 343 N.E.2d 704, rev'd (1977), 67 Ill.2d 143, 365 N.E.2d 322; see Hagerstrom v. Clay City Community School District No. 10 (1976), 36 Ill. App.3d 1, 343 N.E.2d 249). Perhaps as a result of these concerns, section 24-12 was amended by Public Act 79-561 in August of 1975. Under the provisions of this act, the local school ...