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05/17/89 Terry Desmond Et Al., v. the Regional Board of

May 17, 1989

TERRY DESMOND ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS

v.

THE REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES, MALTA COMMUNITY UNIT NO. 2-88-0437



Before addressing the merits of this appeal, we will address plaintiffs' motion to strike defendants' statement of facts for alleged violation of Supreme Court Rule 341(e)(6)(107 Ill. 2d R. 341(e)(6)).

APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, SECOND DISTRICT

538 N.E.2d 1350, 183 Ill. App. 3d 316, 131 Ill. Dec. 794 1989.IL.752

Appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County; the Hon. Rex F. Meilinger, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE WOODWARD delivered the opinion of the court. UNVERZAGT, P.J., and NASH, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE WOODWARD

Plaintiffs, Terry and Joann Desmond, filed a petition requesting that their property be detached from the Malta Unit School District 433 and be annexed to the De Kalb Unit School District 428. Following a hearing, the regional board of school trustees of the County of De Kalb denied the petition. Plaintiffs then filed a complaint for administrative review. The circuit court affirmed the hearing board's decision, holding that it was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Plaintiffs now bring this appeal. The sole issue raised on appeal is whether the hearing board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

In their petition, plaintiffs alleged that their property does not contain a school building; that there would be no nonhigh school territory resulting from the granting of the petition; that their property is compact and contiguous with De Kalb Community Unit School District 428; that the change of boundaries will not cause either district to have a population of less than 2,000, or an equalized assessed valuation of less than $6 million; and that the best interests of the schools of the area and the educational welfare of the people demand that a change in boundaries be granted.

A hearing before the board took place on September 1, 1987. Traci Desmond, daughter of the plaintiffs, testified as follows. She is presently 17 years of age and a senior in high school. She presently attends De Kalb High School as a tuition student, although prior to this year, she attended Malta High School and Malta Grade School.

Most of Traci's testimony centered around the academic advantages she would have at De Kalb High School as opposed to Malta High School. Her class schedule at De Kalb includes several humanities and arts classes which are not offered at Malta. She is also taking Spanish IV, in preparation for a year abroad in a Spanish-speaking country as part of the Rotary Exchange Program, and chemistry. Spanish IV is not offered at Malta. Traci also expressed interest in journalism and communications. De Kalb offers several extracurricular activities which she believed would be helpful in fostering her interest in these fields. Traci also indicated that De Kalb has more teachers than Malta, allowing teachers to teach courses for the most part in their specialized areas.

Traci also testified that she presently lives in De Kalb Township, five miles outside the city limits of Malta. Because of this distance, it was difficult to maintain relationships with the other students at Malta High School. It was difficult for her to see her friends until she got a driver's license. Traci also attends church in De Kalb.

At one point in Traci's testimony, counsel for the Malta school district requested that her testimony be stricken as irrelevant to the issue involved in the hearing. Counsel for the plaintiffs responded that the comparison between the two school districts was an important issue in the case. He further pointed out to the board that its own counsel would advise them as to the law in this proceeding. The testimony was not stricken.

On cross-examination by counsel for Malta, Traci testified that she has attended 5 1/2 days of classes at De Kalb.

In response to questions by the board members, Traci testified that she had three levels of Spanish at Malta and presently was fluent in Spanish. She needs three or four more credits to graduate from high school.

Dr. Guy Banicki, superintendent of the Malta school district and called as a witness by plaintiffs, opined that the de-annexation sought by plaintiffs would have a substantial impact on the Malta school system. Given that the assessed valuation of plaintiffs' property was $30,000, the de-annexation from Malta would result in $1,200 coming out of Malta's budget. Dr. Banicki testified that $1,200 exceeds Malta's entire art curriculum or is about one-half of the physics and chemistry budget. Presently, the budget for the Malta school system is a little over $1 million. Thus, $1,200 would be one one-thousandths of Malta's total budget.

Dr. Banicki testified that the amount of State aid per pupil is $738. Because Traci is not attending Malta High School, the only loss from the granting of the petition would be the $738 paid for Courtney, plaintiffs' other daughter, who is presently in the sixth grade. Thus, the total amount to be lost in the event the petition is granted is approximately $2,000.

According to Dr. Banicki, while he could not make an assessment on the educational impact of the proposed de-annexation, he did state that it would not affect Malta's recognition by the State. The Malta school board opposes the petition and is concerned about what other people might do if the petition was granted.

Dr. Banicki testified further that although De Kalb is the largest school system in the county, while Malta is the smallest (there are 99 students at Malta High School), Malta offers sufficient courses to enable its graduates to go on to college. Eighty-nine percent of its graduates went on to college the previous year, either two-year or four-year institutions. Dr. Banicki stressed that due to the smaller class sizes at Malta, there was better interaction between teacher and pupil and, given the smaller community, a "better partnership between home and school."

Dr. Banicki disagreed that the Malta budget did not allow for special programs for gifted or above average students. In addition to new subjects being added to the curriculum, such as advanced English, Malta belonged to the Kishwaukee consortium. If a student needs to take a college preparatory class which is not offered at Malta, the student may take the course at Kishwaukee College and then be reimbursed and given full credit for the class.

Dr. Banicki also testified that he is familiar with North Central Association, an evaluation group that evaluates high school programs. Although Malta is accredited by the State of Illinois, it was not visited the previous year by North Central Association. In response to a question from the board, Dr. Banicki indicated that he did not know if it made any difference whether or not a school district was accepted or recognized by the North Central Association.

Joann Desmond, one of the plaintiffs, testified that she is the assistant superintendent of instruction and grants for the De Kalb public schools and is completing work on her doctorate in education and administration. Both of her daughters, Traci and Courtney (age 12), have attended Malta schools up to this point. She has resided at her present address for 15 years.

According to Mrs. Desmond, Traci has expressed concern to her regarding the limitations of curriculum and extracurricular activities at Malta. Counsel for Malta objected on the basis of hearsay and relevancy. Counsel for the board indicated that the testimony should be admitted as part of Mrs. Desmond's testimony regarding what is in the best interests of Traci, and the board concurred.

Mrs. Desmond pointed out the scheduling conflicts at Malta that required Traci to choose between two classes, both of which she needed for college. De Kalb offers more opportunities to take classes and a wider variety of classes. Also, at Malta, a student could have the same teacher for several classes, which would be a problem if the relationship is not a good one. According to Mrs. Desmond, at De Kalb, "where you have that many teachers working on an area of curriculum, it is a well defined and well developed area of curriculum, and there are a number of educational advantages that result from that." Over two-thirds of the teachers at De Kalb have at least their master's degrees. Both of her daughters were planning to continue their education past the high school level.

Mrs. Desmond also testified that a North Central accreditation "is an indication of a high quality education system" and represents an advantage to students looking to get into competitive schools.

Mrs. Desmond further testified that the plaintiffs' property is located halfway between the city limits of De Kalb and Malta, and if the petition were granted, transportation would be available to the De Kalb school system by bus.

In explaining the reason why annexation to De Kalb would be in the best interests of her children, Mrs. Desmond stated as follows:

"The primary reason is educational opportunity. Opportunity for both of my children.

Traci has an opportunity this year to participate in a gifted humanities class, which would allow her to take at the completion of this class, an advanced college placement test, which would give her three hours of ...


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