Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 93-MR-0022. Honorable Michael F. O'Brien, Judge, Presiding.
Released for Publication May 27, 1994. Petition for Leave to Appeal Denied October 6, 1994.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle
JUSTICE DOYLE delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiffs, the Board of Education of St. Charles Community Unit School District No. 303 (District 303) and the Board of Education of Elgin School District U-46 (District U-46), filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Kane County, which sought judicial review of an administrative order entered by the Regional Board of School Trustees for the Kane County Educational Service Region (Regional Board) detaching certain property (Royal Fox) from District U-46 and annexing that property to District 303. At the time of filing the complaint, defendants, by and through the Committee of Ten, moved the Regional Board to enter an amended order, which sought to correct certain technical errors in the original order. Subsequent to the Regional Board's entry of the amended order, the circuit court granted plaintiffs leave to file their supplemental complaint for review. Following its review of the order and amended order, the circuit court affirmed the detachment/annexation decision of the Regional Board.
In their timely appeal from the circuit court's order, plaintiffs challenge the Regional Board's decision as being against the manifest weight of the evidence because defendants presented no evidence demonstrating an educational benefit to students residing in the proposed detachment area or the school districts involved. Additionally, because both plaintiffs demonstrated substantial detriment, it was error to grant the boundary change.
The subject territory is a 300-plus-acre tract of land comprised largely of the Royal Fox Subdivision (Royal Fox). Although Royal Fox is located entirely within the limits of the City of St. Charles (City), it is situated partially in District U-46 and partially in District 303.
As of January 1991, District 303 covered an area of 57 square miles and served 7,900 students. Approximately one-half of the student population came from St. Charles with the other half from outside the City. It was undisputed that District 303 was experiencing continued growth and that at the time of the hearing District 303 schools were at or near capacity.
District U-46 is the second largest school district in the State of Illinois. At the time of the hearing, it took in parts of 10 communities, and its student population was nearly 29,000, with continuing growth projected.
On July 1, 1992, a petition was filed in the Office of the Superintendent of the Educational Service Region, Kane County, Illinois, addressed to the Regional Board, seeking to detach the subject territory from District U-46 and to annex that territory to District 303. Over the next several months, hearings before the Regional Board were held, and each side presented substantial testimony and documentary exhibits.
In their case in chief, petitioners presented 13 witnesses. Ten of the witnesses were residents of Royal Fox, two were experts, and the remaining witness was one of the developers. The 10 resident witnesses can be roughly categorized into three groups: (1) those with no children residing with them; (2) those with preschool age children; and (3) those with school-age children. At the time of the hearing, there were only five school-age children among the 10 resident witnesses, and all of those children were attending private schools in St. Charles. Ultimately, the evidence established that two additional school age children moved to Royal Fox during the pendency of the petition. These children apparently attended public school in District U-46. Additionally, it was undisputed that if all the lots in Royal Fox were fully developed, the proposed detachment/annexation could ultimately add approximately 100 students. The two experts testified on psychological and financial aspects, respectively, and the developer provided some background information.
The first group of resident witnesses testified as follows. Joyce Finger testified primarily about her own son's experience as a child attending a different school. She testified further about her affiliation with the community of St. Charles, and she opined that it would be better for children in the detachment area to attend school in St. Charles.
Diane Wollney testified that she had no children attending the schools in question and that she shopped, purchased clothing, and sought medical care in St. Charles. Additionally, she participated in St. Charles-affiliated recreational activities. In her capacity as a substitute school teacher, Wollney opined that it would be in the best interests of the children to attend school in their natural community.
Vivian Chang testified that she resided with her husband and that her 21-year-old daughter lived with them during her college vacation periods. Chang's testimony essentially related her daughter's experience with changing schools at a young age when the Chang's resided in Naperville. Chang further testified about her preference for shopping in St. Charles, and she opined that it would be better for the subject property to be annexed into St. Charles.
Lisa Will testified that she shopped for groceries and medical products in St. Charles and that she utilized the St. Charles park district. Will further stated that she was planning on having children and that she intended to continue working afterwards. Therefore, it was important to her that she had people in the neighborhood she could depend on. Will stated that she was not aware that her house was in District U-46.
In the second group of resident witnesses, those with preschool age children, petitioners offered the testimony of Gina Cumerow and Alice Nadin. Gina Cumerow testified that she had two preschool children, ages 4 1/2 years and 1 month. Her son, the 4-1/2-year-old, attended church in St. Charles, went to the St. Charles library, attended St. Charles park district classes, and participated in park district activities. Cumerow further testified that she purchased groceries, pharmaceuticals, clothing, and furniture in St. Charles and that she had no affiliation with Elgin. Her son's friends in the neighborhood resided in the St. Charles school district, and he attended preschool and participated in park district activities with children who resided in the St. Charles school district. If the subject property were not annexed, Cumerow stated that her son would attend parochial school. She admitted on cross-examination, however, that when she moved into the community she was aware that her home was located in the Elgin school district.
Alice Nadin testified that she lived in Royal Fox with her husband and two children, ages 4 1/2 and 2 years. Her daughter attended a church affiliated nursery school in St. Charles. Nadin further testified that she sought medical and dental treatment for her children in St. Charles and that she purchased groceries and other personal items in St. Charles. Nadin attended church in St. Charles, and her daughter attended Sunday school at that church. She and her family participated in St. Charles park district programs. On cross-examination, Nadin admitted that she was aware when she purchased her home that it was located in the Elgin school district.
In the third group of resident witnesses, those with school-age children, petitioners presented four witnesses. Carol Gross testified that she and her husband had two children, ages 8 and 5 years. Both children attended parochial school in St. Charles. Her son, the eight-year-old, began attending parochial school after he attended the first grade at the Wayne Elementary School, a District U-46 school. Gross testified that she wanted her son to attend school in St. Charles because she felt his natural environment was in St. Charles. She further explained that she removed her son from Wayne because most of the children were from Bartlett and Carol Stream and there was no one from St. Charles. Accordingly, it was difficult for her son to acquire playmates and to have them over after school. At the time, to her knowledge, Gross' son was the only child in Royal Fox who attended Wayne.
Gross further testified that her son did not participate in any park district activities with his Wayne classmates because they belonged primarily to the Bartlett park district. The Gross family belonged to the St. Charles park district. Additionally, her son attended classes at the St. Charles park district, and he did not participate in after school activities with his "school friends."
Gross stated that shopping, religious, and social activities took place in St. Charles. Her daughter took ballet at the park district and one class the previous year at the St. Charles library; her son played in the St. Charles little league.
Gross further testified that since attending parochial school in St. Charles, she and her son were brought closer to the community of St. Charles and that her son was happier and more fulfilled. Three of her son's friends in ...