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Swanson v. Board of Education





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Mason County; the Hon. Howard S. White, Judge, presiding.


The primary issue addressed in this appeal is the procedural scope of the public hearing afforded a principal facing demotion and reduction in salary. Swanson, plaintiff, argues "public hearing" means "evidentiary hearing." The board of education, defendant, argues "public hearing" means "opportunity to be heard in a public forum." The trial court found the public hearing Swanson received pursuant to section 10-23.8b of the School Code was inadequate. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 10-23.8b.) It ordered the defendant (board) to conduct another hearing. Swanson then asked for a mandatory injunction to compel the board to reinstate him and pay damages. The court denied the injunction. The board appeals the court's initial order. Swanson cross-appeals the determination that he was not entitled to reinstatement and damages.

We reverse because the legislative history of section 10-23.8b indicates an evidentiary public hearing is not statutorily required. Consequently, we affirm the trial court's ruling on the injunction.

Swanson was the principal of Forman Grade School. He had been a principal for over two years and an administrator in the school district for 13 years. On February 20, 1984, the board passed a tentative resolution to reclassify Swanson and assign him to a teaching position, with a concomitant reduction in salary. The board notified Swanson of its decision, including a list of reasons with the notice. Swanson requested and received a list of reasons with the notice. Swanson requested and received a private hearing before the board to discuss the proposed reclassification. The next day the board notified Swanson that its tentative resolution was still in effect.

On March 22, 1984, the board held a public hearing, at Swanson's request. The Board formulated the rules and procedures followed at the hearing. They included: opening remarks by both sides, presentation of the reasons for reclassification, presentation of Swanson's response to the reasons, rebuttal by the board, and closing arguments by both parties. The rules stated that formal rules of evidence were inapplicable and no cross-examination of witnesses or board members would be allowed.

At the hearing, the board's attorney read the reasons for the board's decision. The board presented no other evidence, witnesses, or information. Swanson was sworn and testified in his own behalf, essentially contradicting the reasons stated for his reclassification. Swanson introduced documents supporting his testimony. Then, Swanson called John Lowey, the superintendent of schools, as a witness. Over Swanson's objection, the board refused to allow Swanson to directly examine or cross-examine Lowey. The attorneys and Swanson then gave closing statements. The board passed the resolution to reclassify Swanson.

On April 26, 1984, Swanson filed a petition for certiorari in the circuit court. The petition alleged that the board's actions were not in accord with the statute because the public hearing was inadequate. The board had failed to prove its reasons for reclassification, Swanson denied them, and Swanson had been denied the opportunity to question Lowey.

The circuit court held that the board had not complied with the statute. It interpreted the phrase "public hearing" within section 10-23.8b of the School Code as requiring that Swanson have the opportunity to examine the board and Lowey on the factual basis of their decision. It ordered the board to conduct a public hearing in accord with its decision.

Swanson then filed a motion for reconsideration and for mandatory injunction seeking a declaration that he was still a principal and compensation as such until he was properly reclassified or terminated. The court denied the motion. The parties filed timely notices of appeal.

Section 10-23.8b of the School Code states:

"Reclassification of principals. No principal who has completed 2 or more years of administrative service in the school district may be reclassified by demotion or reduction in rank from one position within a school district to another for which a lower salary is paid without written notice from the board of the proposed reclassification by April 1 of the year in which the contract expires.

Within 10 days of receipt of this notice, the principal may request and receive a private hearing with the board to discuss the reasons for the reclassification. If the principal is not satisfied with the results of the private hearing, he may, within 5 days thereafter, request and receive a public hearing on the reclassification. Any principal may be represented by counsel at a private or public hearing conducted under this Section.

If the board decides to proceed with the reclassification, it shall give the principal written notice of its decision within 15 days of the private hearing or within 15 days of the public hearing held under this Section, whichever is later. The decision of the board thereupon becomes final.

Nothing in this Section prohibits a board from ordering lateral transfers of principals to positions of similar rank and equal salary." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 10-23.8b.)

The notice and time requirements were followed. The extent of the private hearing is not in issue.

The board argues that the phrase public hearing does not mean evidentiary hearing. Swanson's hearing fulfilled the purposes of the public hearing, which are allowing the principal to deal with someone other than the superintendent, forcing the board to deal with him in a public forum, and mitigating any stigma resulting from demotion. The board further argues that the ...

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