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Pochopien v. Regional Board of School Trustees of the Lake County Educational Service Region

April 24, 2001

DONALD J. POCHOPIEN, HELEN K. POCHOPIEN, ALAN J. GOLDSTEIN, MICHELLE R. GOLDSTEIN, WILLIAM F. GRAHAM, JR., LYNN C. GRAHAM, JEFFREY M. TERCHIN, DEBORAH G. TERCHIN, ROBERT V. POLANSKY, AND DARRELL R. OVERCASH, INDIV. AND AS A COMMITTEE OF TEN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF THE LAKE COUNTY EDUCATIONAL SERVICE REGION; BARRY J. CARROLL, ALISON B. FRANK, GARY FRIENDLANDER, CONSTANCE HOTH, ROY E. LUCKE, EDWARD MAY, LARRY MCSHANE, INDIV. AND AS MEMBERS OF THE REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF THE LAKE COUNTY EDUCATIONAL SERVICE REGION; THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF KILDEER COUNTRYSIDE COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT 96; THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF FREMONT SCHOOL DISTRICT 79; LAKE COUNTY REGIONAL SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS; EDWARD J. GONWA, INDIV. AND AS LAKE COUNTY REGIONAL SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS AND AS EX-OFFICIO SECRETARY, THE REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF THE LAKE COUNTY EDUCATIONAL SERVICE REGION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. Nos. 99--MR--432 99--MR--437 (Consolidated) Honorable Christopher C. Stark, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'malley

Plaintiffs, Donald J. Pochopien et al., appeal the circuit court's judgment affirming the decision of the Regional Board of School Trustees of the Lake County Educational Service Region (Regional Board) to deny plaintiffs' petition to detach the entire subdivision commonly known as "the Cobblestone of Long Grove" (Cobblestone) from Fremont School District 79 (District 79) and annex it to Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated School District No. 96 (District 96).

BACKGROUND

Although plaintiffs' petition, filed December 1, 1998, states nothing more specific than annexation to District 96 as its sought remedy, plaintiffs' design in filing the petition, as will be seen, was to have their children attend Country Meadows Elementary School (Country Meadows) and Woodlawn Middle School (Woodlawn) in District 96 (jointly Country-Woodlawn).

Cobblestone subdivision, comprised of 23 houses on a total of 32 lots, is in the Village of Long Grove and in District 79. Cobblestone's western boundary is shared not only by the boundary that partly forms the southeast corner of District 79 and the northwest corner of District 96, but also by the eastern boundary of the school grounds of Country Meadows and Woodlawn, both of which are in Long Grove. Country Meadows comprises grades one through three, and Woodlawn comprises grades four through eight. Country Meadows and Woodlawn both were built after Cobblestone was developed. Cobblestone is within a very short distance of the two schools.

Currently, Cobblestone has 22 school-age children. Cobblestone children in grades one through eight attend Fremont Elementary School and Fremont Middle School (jointly Fremont) in District 79, both of which are in the Village of Mundelein approximately 5.8 miles from Cobblestone. Depending on traffic, a one-way trip between Cobblestone and Fremont can range from 20 to 50 minutes. Approximately 30% of District 79 students attend Stevenson High School, which is also attended by all District 96 students, and the remaining students attend Mundelein High School. District 79 has an enrollment of 1,400 students, and District 96 has 3,716 students. Cobblestone students are the only Long Grove residents who attend school in District 79 rather than District 96.

At a hearing before the Regional Board, plaintiffs argued that, by being required to commute several miles to Fremont for school, Cobblestone children are placed at risk needlessly, given that Country- Woodlawn literally is next door to Cobblestone. The Regional Board accepted into evidence several letters, all dated before the petition was filed, that plaintiffs offered to show Long Grove's and District 96's mutual desire to foster a sense of community. In this correspondence, which deals with issues such as a proposed walking path between Cobblestone and Country-Woodlawn, District 96 welcomes the involvement of the Long Grove Park District in the development of the new schools (Country-Woodlawn) and expresses a desire to be a "good neighbor" to Cobblestone and an interest in having representatives on Long Grove village planning committees.

[The following material is nonpublishable under Supreme Court Rule 23.] Specifically, in a letter dated November 3, 1998, Karen Schmitt, the executive director of the Community Development Corporation of Long Grove, requests permission of Cal Doughty, manager of the Village of Long Grove, to use Long Grove's logo on souvenir bears to be sold for charity in the Long Grove historic business district. Ms. Schmitt explains that students from District 96 will be involved in a contest to name the bear prior to its going on sale.

Also admitted into evidence was correspondence between officials of Long Grove and District 96 concerning Long Grove's proposal for a walking path between Cobblestone and Country Meadows. In a letter dated October 6, 1998, Dr. Thomas Many, superintendent of District 96, states that the proposal for a walking path was discussed with the board of education for District 96 but no decision was yet made. Dr. Many writes that "the active involvement of the Long Grove Park District in the development of the new school site [Country Meadows] would be a positive step." In another letter, dated March 13, 1998, Dr. Many acknowledges Cobblestone resident Donald Pochopien's February 1998 letter and thanks Pochopien for communicating his "views regarding the proposed schools on the property at Gilmer and North Krueger Roads," i.e., Country Meadows and Woodlawn. Dr. Many notes that he has had a few "positive" conversations with Cobblestone residents about the proposed schools and concludes that "residents believe a school would be a positive addition to that part of the Village." Dr. Many indicates that he is flattered that the residents of Cobblestone might sign a petition to join District 96. Dr. Many closes by expressing his hope that District 96 can be "good neighbors" to Pochopien and the rest of Cobblestone residents and can "develop a school facility that will add value to the Village of Long Grove and surrounding areas."

In a March 3, 1998, letter to Cal Doughty, Dr. Many indicates that District 96's board of education is "very interested" in Long Grove's plan to expand the downtown business district. Dr. Many remarks that Long Grove's plan would "obviously impact the local economy, tax base and transportation of students in and around the Village," and he thanks Doughty for allowing District 96 to have a representative on any committees involved in the plan.

[The preceding material is nonpublishable under Supreme Court Rule 23].

Over defendants' objection, the Regional Board admitted into evidence a document entitled "Financial Impact," which plaintiffs offered to show the fiscal consequences that detachment and annexation would have for District 79 and District 96. The document reflects that District 79's cost of educating each student in 1997 was $6,619, resulting in a total cost of $143,418 for educating 22 students (the number of students in Cobblestone). In 1997, District 79 received $108,200.40 in tax revenue from the 23 houses in Cobblestone (the average revenue per house in District 96 being $4,074 in 1997). Thus, in 1997, the cost of educating the Cobblestone students exceeded revenue derived from Cobblestone by $35,217.60. The document further shows that District 79's cost per student remained constant from 1997 to 1998 but that its tax revenue from Cobblestone increased to $122,312.40 in 1998. Thus, in 1998, District 79's cost of educating the 22 Cobblestone students exceeded the revenue the district received from the 23 Cobblestone houses by $21,106.

The document further shows that District 96's cost of educating each student in 1997 was $5,552, resulting in a total cost of $122,144 for educating 22 students (the number of students in Cobblestone) in 1997. Tax revenue per 23 houses (the number of houses in Cobblestone) in 1997 was $121,054.70 (the average revenue per house in District 96 being $5,263 in 1997). Thus, District 96's cost of educating 22 students in 1997 exceeded the revenue from 23 houses by $1,089.30. According to the document, District 96's tax revenue per 23 houses increased to $136,843.70 in 1998 while its cost of educating each student remained constant. Thus, in 1998, the revenue from 23 houses exceeded by $14,699.70 the cost of educating 22 students from a subdivision comprised of 23 homes.

Plaintiffs argued that these figures demonstrate that District 96 is better able financially to educate the 22 Cobblestone students than is District 79, and that District 79 would in fact receive a financial benefit in the form of a decreased deficit from losing the Cobblestone students. Although the financial impact statement is ambiguous in parts, we interpret it as comparing District 79's costs versus the revenue derived from the 23 Cobblestone houses themselves against District 96's cost of educating 22 students versus its revenue derived per 23 houses, based on the average revenue per house in District 96. Although defendants objected to admission of the financial impact statement only on hearsay grounds, they also expressed an intent to challenge the substance of the document during their presentation by showing that it was "misleading" and that it "compared data from the wrong years." As we note below, defendants did not successfully follow through on this design.

District 79 presented the testimony of three witnesses: Dr. Gary Mical, superintendent for District 79; Karen Kolb, who has resided with her family in Cobblestone for seven years; and Andrew Rieder, president of District 79's board of education, father of four children who attend Fremont, and resident of Hawthorne Woods, located less than two miles northwest of Cobblestone.

Concerning District 79's revenue, Dr. Mical testified as follows. The district receives approximately $102,000 in tax revenue per year from Cobblestone and anticipates receiving $148,000 in revenue per year once Cobblestone is completely built. Approximately 30% of the 34 square miles in District 79 have been developed. Significant housing development near the eastern and western boundaries of the district is anticipated. There is the potential for "an enormous amount" of housing in the northern part of the district. Some parts of District 79, however, could end up in a tax increment financing district comprised of an industrial development. The development could employ anywhere between 9,000 and 12,000 people and would cause an intense population increase, an influx of students, and increased expenses. However, the development would not result in a revenue increase for about 23 years.

Dr. Mical testified that District 79 anticipated an increase of approximately 10%, or 300 students, per year. Asked on cross- examination whether the loss of the 22 Cobblestone students would be significant when compared to the estimated 300 students to be gained each year, Dr. Mical stated that "if it is a question of losing 22 students versus gaining 300 students, obviously the numbers are fairly easy to be able to determine. Three hundred students means it is going to have a lot more effect on losing 22 students." Dr. Mical's answer is somewhat ambiguous and was not clarified by follow-up questions, but we interpret Dr. Mical as saying that the projected gain of 300 students would bring a gain in revenue to offset the loss of Cobblestone students and would not simply increase costs. Thus, we consider the gain of 300 students not to be part of the tax increment financing district described by Dr. Mical.

Dr. Mical testified that the district just completed construction on a $12.5 million elementary school building. The students from Cobblestone were considered in the planning of this building, as was the tax revenue from Cobblestone. District 79 plans to build another elementary school building, but since it has been deficit spending at the rate of $800,000 and projects a deficit next year of $1.3 million, it anticipates asking voters for a tax increase. If the referendum fails, then the district "will be faced with the possibility of having significant cuts to [its] programs."

Dr. Mical testified that the detachment of Cobblestone would have "a negligible effect" on the district's costs, although it would cause a loss of revenue. A charter school recently was approved by the State Board of Education for District 79, which will result in a loss of 60 students and a maximum of $400,000 in revenue but will have no impact on the costs of the district. Dr. Mical stated that "[a]ny loss of revenue at this particular time will have a deleterious effect" on the district.

Asked to compare District 79 and District 96 in terms of educational resources, Dr. Mical testified that District 96 is "really almost a mirror district" to District 79 in terms of curriculum. There are no significant differences between the facilities of the two districts. Dr. Mical testified that he was ...


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