Appeal from Circuit Court of Macoupin County No. 02MR19 Honorable Thomas P. Carmody, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton
Plaintiffs, Drew D. Dukett and Laura J. Dukett (Duketts), seek administrative review of the decision of defendant, the Regional Board of School Trustees of Calhoun, Greene, Jersey, and Macoupin Counties (Regional Board), denying their petition to detach land from one school district and attach it to another pursuant to section 7-6 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/7-6 (West 2000)).
The Duketts filed a petition, requesting that their parcel and two adjacent parcels be detached from the North Greene school district (North Greene) and annexed to the Winchester school district (Winchester). They claim it would be more convenient for the family and more beneficial to the children if they were allowed to be annexed to Winchester. The Duketts' social, religious, educational, and economic activities are in Winchester. They have minimal ties to North Greene.
At the hearing on their petition, Laura Dukett provided testimony regarding her desire to be annexed into Winchester. The Duketts have three children, aged 13, 14, and 15. They purchased their home, which is situated on 30 acres, in 1993. The petition includes their property and that of their neighbors. Laura has worked in the Winchester school district for eight years and is currently the sponsor for the student council. The family is very involved with their church and the 4-H Club, both located in Winchester. Through those affiliations, they spend a lot of time volunteering in the Winchester community. They are not involved in any community activities within the North Greene school district. Having the children attend the same school where Laura teaches would be convenient for the family and a benefit for the children. The children would ride to and from school with Laura, she would have direct contact with the children's teachers, and she would be able to catch up with the children regarding their day immediately after school. They could come to her room after school and do their homework while she was finishing up. If the children attended North Greene, they would not be able to get to their activities in Winchester after school.
Drew Dukett would also be more involved in the children's activities since he travels through Winchester to his job in Springfield. He would be able to stop in Winchester on his way home to watch the boys' football practice. If the children attended North Greene, they would have to ride the school bus, which stops one mile from their home. The family goes to the doctor and dentist in Springfield. If the children attended North Greene, Laura and the children would miss more of their school day for medical appointments due to the travel time. The Duketts do their grocery shopping, other household shopping, and banking in Winchester. Laura estimated that the family travels to the Winchester community up to 10 times a week and to the North Greene community maybe 3 times a month.
The children attended middle school at the Winchester Christian School. Because their daughter did not want to leave her friends to attend high school, the Duketts enrolled Bethany in the public high school in Winchester despite the requirement that they pay tuition for her to do so. Bethany is very involved in their church and 4-H Club in Winchester. She is also very involved in band. She is in the concert, marching, and jazz bands at Winchester. Bethany does not socialize with anyone from the North Greene schools.
The Duketts son, Christopher, is also attending Winchester schools and is planning to start high school there in the fall. Christopher is involved in their church, 4-H Club, and Boy Scouts in Winchester. He is currently working on attaining Eagle Scout status. He plays the trombone in the concert band and the drums in the jazz band. According to Laura, Winchester's band program is superior to that of North Greene--North Greene does not have a jazz band.
The Duketts' youngest son, Joshua, is interested in going into the field of auto mechanics. Winchester has mechanics training facilities within the district through the school's industrial arts program. Other school districts bus their students to Winchester to receive auto mechanics training.
In opposition to the detachment, James Whiteside, the superintendent at North Greene, testified that in his opinion the academic offerings of North Greene were of "great quality." There was no evidence presented as to any detriment that North Greene would suffer. North Greene argues that it would not receive the $3,500 per student per year in aid should the detachment occur. Section 7-6(i) requires that the Regional Board consider the "division of funds and assets" that will result from a detachment and annexation. 105 ILCS 5/7-6(i) (West 2000). However, we do not find that state aid awarded on a per-pupil basis that the detached district may not receive constitutes a "fund or asset" within the meaning of the statute and is not a proper factor for consideration, especially where, as here, it is not currently received by the district.
On June 27, 2002, after considering the evidence, the Regional Board denied the Duketts' petition because (1) no evidence was presented to indicate that there was a significant difference in the academic programs between the two districts, (2) the annexation would require the students in the Winchester school district to spend more time on the school bus, and (3) North Greene would suffer financial harm.
On August 6, 2002, the Duketts filed a complaint for administrative review, arguing that the Regional Board's findings and decision were clearly erroneous. On December 12, 2002, the circuit court entered an order finding that (1) the Regional Board's decision to deny the Duketts' petition was not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, and (2) the Regional ...