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Burnett v. Massac Community Unit Dist. No. 1

OPINION FILED MAY 18, 1981.

ROLLO D. BURNETT ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

MASSAC COMMUNITY UNIT DISTRICT NO. 1 OF MASSAC COUNTY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Massac County; the Hon. GEORGE OROS, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE WELCH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

In this proceeding to detach land from one school district and annex it to another, two decisions were rendered by regional boards involved, and both decisions were reviewed by the Circuit Court of Massac County. Each circuit court action presents a different question to be resolved by this court. In its first order, the trial court remanded the proceedings to the board. The appellant claims that this procedure was unwarranted in this case. In the second order, the trial court affirmed the second decision of the board. We affirm both orders.

The territory in this dispute consists of eight full sections and two partial sections of land in western Massac County. It is situated east of the Village of Joppa, population 500, and west of Metropolis, the county seat, population 7,000. The area is roughly bisected by U.S. Highway 45 and it is bounded on the south by the Ohio River. This region, like much of Massac County, is rural in character, and those of its residents who are not engaged in farming are employed by several industries in Joppa and Metropolis.

Traditionally, the children of this area attended Franklin Grade School, to the east, and continued their education at Joppa High School, in the village. The other Franklin children went on to Metropolis High School. The land in question has been part of the Joppa High School District since the first Joppa High School was built in 1927. In December 1976, a referendum was held to determine whether a "unit district" would be created in part of Massac County. A unit district encompasses all levels of elementary and secondary education, and its creation requires consolidation of various existing grade and high school districts into a single district. The referendum passed, and the Massac Community Unit District No. 1 was brought into existence. The unit district absorbed the old Franklin elementary district, and as a result, all students who attended Franklin Grade School were automatically assigned to Metropolis High School.

On December 1, 1978, a petition signed by better than 90% of the registered voters in this area was filed with the Regional Board of School Trustees for Massac and Johnson Counties. It requested that the territory be detached from the unit district and be annexed to the Maple Grove Elementary District and the Joppa High School District. Maple Grove, located north of the Village of Joppa, is the only grade school which sends its pupils on to Joppa High. The Maple Grove and Joppa High Districts are distinct administrative and taxing entities, and have not been "unified," as has the unit district.

Hearings were held on the petition in February and March of 1979. Several residents of the area, personnel from the schools involved, and some outside educational consultants testified before the regional board. On April 6, 1979, the board voted 4-3 to deny the petition, all four board members who were residents of the unit district voting in the majority. In its written order of that date, the board stated that the following factors were considered in the decision:

"A. The financial impact on all the districts involved.

B. The relative merits of the educational program [sic].

(1) Curriculum

(2) Library facilities

(3) Racial environment

(4) Social environment

C. Convenience and preference of parents and students living in the area sought to be detached.

D. Physical proximity to school districts [sic] of the area to be detached.

E. The educational welfare of the affected districts and their pupils as a whole.

F. School boundaries should be changed only where the benefit to the annexing district and affected areas clearly outweighs the detriment resulting to the detaching district and surrounding community as a whole."

The regional board found that:

"(a) The decrease in funds available to Massac Unit #1 would be much larger than the corresponding increase of funds to ...


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