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02/10/95 BOARD EDUCATION COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL

February 10, 1995

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 337, HANCOCK, MCDONOUGH, ADAMS AND SCHUYLER COUNTIES, ILLINOIS; HARLAN PASSLEY, T. GENE UFKES, PHIL STIENBARGER, STEVE CAMPBELL, KEITH MARLOW, GRANT HOLST, AND ROD BRUENGER, AS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 337, HANCOCK, MCDONOUGH, ADAMS AND SCHUYLER COUNTIES, ILLINOIS; AND TERRY A. ROBERTSON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS
v.
REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF HANCOCK/MCDONOUGH COUNTIES, ILLINOIS; EARL MCMILLANA, JAMES BURNHAM, DUANE DEITRICH, CHARLES MCCUTCHAN, MERLE PARKS, GEORGE BECKMAN, AND ELDON WALKER, AS MEMBERS OF THE REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF HANCOCK/MCDONOUGH COUNTIES, ILLINOIS; SAMUEL NAYLOR VI, HANCOCK COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY; CHARLES R. KNOWLES, JR., CYNTHIA K. KNOWLES, JEFFREY D. CREMER, BONNIE S. RIGGENS, TERRY L. WHITE, CHRIS S. MILLER, DEBRA J. MILLER, TOMMY D. SMITH, WENDY J. SMITH, AND JANE E. MENN, AS THE COMMITTEE OF TEN DESIGNATED PURSUANT TO SECTION 7-6 OF THE SCHOOL CODE; GLADYS F. STEPHEN, DAVID S. GRAINGER, JOHN R. WATSON, JR., STEPHANIE F. WATSON, TOM JEFFERSON, MAVIS J. JEFFERSON, DEBORAH S. CREMER, JEFFREY D. CREMER, LISA K. KOST, JANE E. MENN, PHILIP W. WILDRICK, MARION E. JEFFERSON, TERRY L. WHITE, LORRAINE C. WHITE, CHRIS S. MILLER, BONNIE S. RIGGENS, OLIVE RUTHANNE DANIELSON, BOB E. DANIELSON, BRITTEN GRAY, JR., FREEMAN GRAY, HEATHE R. JEFFERSON, CYNTHIA K. KNOWLES, CHARLES R. KNOWLES, JR., MARTHA DARLENE GRAY, STEPHAN JOHNSON, MILDRED JOHNSON, WAYNE KOST, WENDY J. SMITH, TOMMY D. SMITH, JOHN HENRY MUNGER, RUSSELL MOORE, NORA L. SAMMSON, MICHAEL R. THOMPSON, ARTHUR W. HEIM, BETTY L. HEIM, GALE MERLENE MILLER, DEBRA J. MILLER, RICHARD L. MILLER, SANDRA S. LOVELL, WAYNE S. LOVELL, PATRICIA K. WHITE, GLEN WHITE, MARTHA LOUISE RIGGENS, EDWARD RIGGENS, AND CHERRY M. GRAINGER, PETITIONERS, AND RALPH GRIMM, MARVIN BOYER, JANE E. MENN, CYNTHIA K. KNOWLES, BONNIE S. RIGGENS, STEPHANIE F. WATSON, JEFFREY D. CREMER, WENDY J. SMITH, TOM JEFFERSON, ROBERT MENN AND LORRIE (LAURIE) WHITE, PETITION SUPPORTERS; AND DAVID ROBERTS, PETITION OBJECTOR AND BOARD OF EDUCATION OF COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 338, HANCOCK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, AFFECTED SCHOOL DISTRICT; MERLIN REDENIUS, WALTER SWEARINGEN, LORI RECHT, JANET GRIMM, PHILIP NEVIUS, LARRY MENSCHEL, AND J. ALAN DICKERSON, AS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 338, HANCOCK COUNTY, ILLINOIS; ROBERT BAUMANN, REGIONAL SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS OF HANCOCK AND MCDONOUGH COUNTIES, ILLINOIS; AND, ROGER ICENOGLE, ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS OF HANCOCK AND MCDONOUGH COUNTIES, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit, Hancock County, Illinois. No. 93-MR-13. Honorable Ronald C. Tenold, Judge, Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Breslin delivered the opinion of the court: Stouder, P.j., and Holdridge, J., concur. Present - Honorable Allan L. Stouder, Presiding Justice, Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice, Honorable William E. Holdridge, Justice. Stouder, P.j., and Holdridge, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Breslin

The Honorable Justice BRESLIN delivered the opinion of the court:

The Board of Education of Community Unit School District No. 337 (Southeastern) appeals from a circuit court order which affirmed an administrative order of the Regional Board of School Trustees of Hancock/McDonough Counties (Regional Board). The Regional Board's order granted a petition to detach certain territory from Southeastern for annexation to Community Unit School District No. 338 (District 338). Southeastern raises the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the detachment petition was a successive petition filed in violation of section 7-8 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/7-8 (West Supp. 1994)); (2) whether the Regional Board's decision to grant the detachment petition was against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (3) whether alleged procedural errors by the Regional Board constitute reversible error. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

FACTS

The detachment petition at issue in this case was filed on February 11, 1993. It affected 10 students in a territory of approximately 5,635 acres. The territory's assessed valuation was $459,610.00, which constituted 2% of Southeastern's total assessed valuation. If passed, the detachment would allow the affected students to attend a District 338 school in Carthage, Illinois.

The Regional Board convened a hearing on the petition on April 5, 1993. Nine parents of affected students testified in support of the petition. The primary reasons they gave for favoring detachment were the availability of day care in Carthage, Carthage's proximity to U.S. Route 136, the availability of extracurricular activities at Carthage schools, and the availability of medical attention in Carthage. One parent testified that his property values suffered because his property was located within Southeastern's borders.

Terry Robertson, Southeastern's superintendent, testified in opposition to the petition. Robertson disclosed that Southeastern was in the process of accommodating territory it acquired in 1992 when the Plymouth school district dissolved. The majority of the territory in this detachment petition included property acquired in the Plymouth dissolution. Southeastern had assumed Plymouth's debt obligations upon Plymouth's dissolution. Robertson argued that Southeastern should be given the opportunity to adjust to the Plymouth dissolution without having to face the effects of a detachment. On cross-examination, Robertson admitted that the detachment would not threaten Southeastern's recognition status or cause the district to lay off teachers.

At the close of evidence the Regional Board voted to grant the petition. In its written order the board found that proximity to U.S. Route 136 and to medical attention favored detachment. It also found that the detachment would not threaten Southeastern's recognition status and that the 2% drop in assessed valuation would not threaten the district's financial stability. The board found further that the detachment would favor the territory's property values and would limit disruptions to the affected parents' workplaces.

Southeastern then filed a request for rehearing along with a motion to dismiss the detachment petition. The basis for the motion to dismiss was that the petition was a successive petition brought in violation of section 7-8 of the School Code. Section 7-8 generally prohibits consideration of a detachment petition involving the same territory that was involved in a petition that was denied within the previous two years. It was disclosed that a detachment petition was filed with the Regional Board in August of 1991 to detach territory from the then-existing Plymouth school district for attachment to District 338. That petition, which was denied, affected 16 students in a territory consisting of approximately 7,480 acres. The territory's assessed valuation was $734,234.00, which was 8% of Plymouth's total assessed valuation. The subject territory of the 1993 petition was contained within the subject territory of the 1991 petition.

Both parties submitted written arguments on section 7-8's applicability and the Regional Board heard oral arguments on June 3, 1993. After hearing arguments the board voted to deny the request for rehearing and the motion to dismiss. Southeastern then requested an opportunity to make an offer of proof of the evidence it would submit at a rehearing. The board refused that request as well.

Southeastern sought administrative review in the circuit court of Hancock County. The court affirmed the Regional Board in all respects. It first found that the 1993 petition was not barred under the terms of section 7-8. The court ruled that although the petition did fall within section 7-8's purview, the 1993 petition was substantially different from the 1991 petition, thereby bringing the 1993 petition within an exception to section 7-8's two-year ban. In support of this ruling the court noted that the 1991 petition was brought against Plymouth, not against Southeastern, and that the 1993 petition sought detachment of territory that was smaller in terms of land, assessed valuation, and number of affected students than the territory involved in the 1991 petition.

The trial court also ruled that the Regional Board's decision to grant the detachment petition was supported by the evidence and that the Regional Board's alleged procedural errors did not warrant remand. This appeal followed.

Standard of Review

The Regional Board's orders are administrative decisions for purposes of the Administrative Review Act. (See 105 ILCS 5/7-7 (West 1992).) Accordingly, our scope of review extends to all questions of law and fact presented by the record. The factual findings of an administrative agency are held to be prima facie true and correct. (735 ILCS 5/3-110 (West Supp. 1994).) However, where the findings of fact are against the manifest weight of the evidence and it is clearly evident that the board should have reached the opposite conclusion, the reviewing court may reverse the agency's findings of fact. (City of Freeport v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board (1990), 135 Ill. 2d 499, 554 N.E.2d 155, 143 Ill. Dec. 220.) The courts need not defer to the administrative agency's ...


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