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Bd of Educ. v. Reg. Bd of Sch. Trustees

OPINION FILED AUGUST 2, 1985.

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ROCKFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 205, WINNEBAGO-BOONE COUNTIES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF BOONE AND WINNEBAGO COUNTIES ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. John E. Sype, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HOPF DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, board of education of Rockford School District No. 205, Winnebago-Boone Counties (Rockford district), filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, certiorari, mandamus and permanent injunction alleging that the hearing board, selected by defendant, regional board of school trustees of Boone and Winnebago Counties (regional board), to hear plaintiff's resolution objecting to detachment of certain real estate from the Rockford district, was not chosen in accordance with section 7-2.5 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 7-2.5). The trial court dismissed plaintiff's complaint with prejudice, finding that pursuant to the language of section 7-2.5, the plaintiff did not have the right to reject defendant regional board's two appointees to the hearing board. This appeal followed.

The issue on appeal concerns the interpretation of the words "districts affected," as they appear in section 7-2.5 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 7-2.5). Plaintiff contends that the language of section 7-2.5 is not ambiguous, that it favors plaintiff's interpretation that the term "districts affected" encompasses a special charter district, such as the Rockford district, and that, as a district affected, plaintiff's approval of defendant regional board's two appointees to the hearing board was required. Conversely, plaintiff argues that if section 7-2.5 is held to be ambiguous and in need of interpretation and construction, the rules of statutory construction support plaintiff's interpretation.

Petitioners, who were intervenors at the trial level and who constitute the additional defendants-appellees in this appeal, filed a petition for detachment of certain territory from the Rockford district (a special charter district). Plaintiff objected to the detachment and adopted a resolution objecting to detachment which it filed with defendant regional board. Pursuant to section 7-2.5 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 7-2.5), which includes the procedure involved in selecting members of a hearing board to hear the petition and objection, plaintiff appointed two legal voters from the Rockford district to be members of the hearing board. Defendant regional board also appointed two legal voters from the districts under its jurisdiction to be members.

Plaintiff adopted a resolution rejecting defendant regional board's two appointees on the basis that under section 7-2.5 the appointments were subject to plaintiff's approval. In an accompanying letter, plaintiff requested that the regional board tender two more appointees for confirmation by plaintiff. The ex officio secretary of the regional board informed plaintiff that the regional board's appointees were not subject to plaintiff's approval. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, certiorari, mandamus and permanent injunction, seeking the trial court to declare that the hearing board be selected in accordance with its interpretation of section 7-2.5 of the School Code. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 7-2.5.

At a hearing, the trial court concluded that the words "districts affected" used in section 7-2.5 of the School Code did not include special charter districts, such as the Rockford district and, therefore, plaintiff possessed no right to reject the regional board's two appointees to the hearing board, since only "districts affected" had the right of approval. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 7-2.5.) As a result, the trial court found that plaintiff's complaint failed to state a cause of action and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

Sections 7-2.3 through 7-2.7 provide for the annexation to and detachment of property in a special charter school district. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, pars. 7-2.3 through 7-2.7.) "`Special charter district' means any city, township or district organized into a school district, under a special Act or charter of the General Assembly or in which schools are now managed and operating within such unit in whole or in part under the terms of such special Act or charter." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 1-3.) The portion of section 7-2.5 which is in contention states:

"However, if an objection to the proposed annexation or detachment of territory is filed with either the special charter district or the regional board of school trustees, the regional board of school trustees, within 15 days after receiving the objection, shall appoint 2 legal voters from the district or districts under their jurisdiction and involved in the proposed annexation or detachment of territory, subject to the approval of the boards of education of the districts affected, and the board or governing body of the special charter district shall appoint 2 legal voters from the special charter district." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 7-2.5.)

Of primary importance in this appeal is the emphasized portion of the sentence set out above.

Plaintiff first contends that the language of section 7-2.5 is not ambiguous and, therefore, needs no judicial construction but rather should have been given the plain meaning intended by the legislature. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 122, par. 7-2.5.) That meaning, according to plaintiff, is that the words "districts affected" refer to the district from which territory is to be detached as well as to the district to which the territory is to be annexed, and, therefore, both districts have the right to approve the defendant regional board's two appointees. Alternatively, plaintiff argues that if the statute is held to be ambiguous, application of the rules of statutory construction favors plaintiff's interpretation of selection 7-2.5.

Defendant agrees that the statute is unambiguous but argues that the trial court's interpretation of the words "districts affected" was correct. The essence of defendant's position is that the trial court considered the full statutory section and not just the words "districts affected" to determine that the legislative intent was to provide a balanced hearing board and that this objective could not be accomplished if, in addition to being able to pick two appointees of its own, the special charter district also possessed the right to approve defendant's appointees. Consequently, defendant maintains that the plain meaning of the words "subject to the approval of the boards of education of the districts affected" is that the approval of the boards of education of the districts affected, other than the board of the special charter district, is required. Defendant also maintains that if the statute is ambiguous, statutory construction favors its position.

This court has found no Illinois cases to date which interpret this specific provision of the School Code:

"In construing a statutory provision not yet judicially interpreted, a court is guided by both the plain meaning of the language in the statute as well as legislative intent. [Citations.] The statutory language is the best indication of the drafters. [Citation.]" (Tisoncik v. Szczepankiewicz (1983), 113 Ill. App.3d 240, 245, 446 N.E.2d 1271.)

When the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the court's only function is to enforce the law as enacted by the legislature. (Price v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (1983), 116 Ill. App.3d 463, 470, 452 N.E.2d 49.) An appellate court cannot restrict or enlarge the plain meaning of an ...


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