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Haag v. The Board of Education of Streator Elementary School District 44

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

May 9, 2017

JOHN C. HAAG, DANIEL HARBACK, GREG MATAS, DAVID PETERSON, LAURIE BRAHAM, MICHAEL BREYNE, JOHN HENKEL, ELDON JENKINS, PATRICIA BIROS, MARY RUTH CLAYTON, BRENDA CONNOR, LAURA CONNES, CINDY DUTKO, MICHELLE GAYON, SUE ELLEN HENSON, KATHY KMETZ, PAMELA LUCKEY, KATHLEEN MAGANA, TAMARA MUSHRO, TAMELA PANNO, PAMELA PODKANOWICZ, DIANA POMERANKE, REBECCA SAMEK, PATTI THORP, DEBRA WIS SEN, DEBRA WOODWARD, MARY JANE LEE, DEBBIE SCOTT, and JOLYNN HAAGE, formerly known as JOLYNN PEACOCK, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF STREATOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT 44, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court No. 14 MR 32of the 13th Judicial Circuit, La Salle County, Illinois.The Honorable Joseph P. Hettel, Judge, Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lytton and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          PRESIDING JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE

         ¶ 1 The plaintiffs, educational support personnel (ESP) employed by the Board of Education of Streator Elementary School District 44 (Board), brought a declaratory judgment action against the Board, seeking reinstatement to full-time positions along with corresponding payment of back-pay and benefits. The plaintiffs maintained that the Board's action in issuing each plaintiff an honorable discharge from full-time employment and offering to re-hire each as a part-time employee violated their rights under section 10-23.5 of the School Code (Code). 105 ILCS 5/10-23.5 (West 2012). Following cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court of La Salle County granted the Board's motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The following facts are taken from the stipulations by the parties. The Streator Elementary School District operated under deficit reduction plans since 2008. The District was placed on the Illinois State Board of Education's (ISBE) financial watch list in 2012. Prior to that time, the District had been on the ISBE's financial warning list since 2009. At the conclusion of the 2012-2013 school year, the plaintiffs were employed by the District as full-time custodians, special education aids, or behavior interventionists. The custodians' full-time employment was 40 hours per week and the other plaintiffs full-time employment was 37.5 hours per week.

         ¶ 4 On January 15, 2013, the Board held a regularly scheduled meeting at which the superintendent recommended the adoption of a deficit reduction plan that called for reducing all full-time ESPs to part-time employees with no more than 29 hours of employment per week. The Board subsequently adopted the superintendent's recommendation as part of an overall deficit reduction plan.

         ¶ 5 On February 25, 2013, the union representing the plaintiffs submitted a request to bargain over the impact of the Board's deficit reduction plan, including the decision to reduce the hours of any full-time employees. The union and the Board engaged in bargaining during the period from March 4, 2013, through July 2, 2013. The subject of the reduction of the plaintiffs' positions from full-time to part-time was a topic of discussion throughout the impact bargaining, with the union maintaining that the Board should not make the reductions, and the Board maintaining that the move was a matter of economic necessity.

         ¶ 6 On March 19, 2013, the Board voted to reduce custodians to part-time, effective June 30, 2013, and to honorably dismiss three of the special education aids. On April 30, 2013, the Board voted to reduce the remaining special education aids to part-time, effective June 30, 2013. Notices of honorable dismissal were sent to those employees. On May 21, 2013, the remaining special education aids not previously notified were issued honorable dismissals.

         ¶ 7 As part of the 2012-2013 budget deficit plan, the Board closed one of its schools, Oakland Park School, in June 2013, at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

         ¶ 8 On July 13, 2013, the Board implemented the deficit reduction plan, eliminated the plaintiffs' full-time positions, issued each plaintiff an honorable discharge, and advertised part-time positions to perform the job duties formerly performed by the plaintiffs. It appears from the stipulated record that all the impacted employees were offered employment in part-time positions.

         ¶ 9 The plaintiffs filed a petition, seeking a declaration by the circuit court that the Board violated section 10-23.5 of the Code (105 ILCS 5/10-23.5 (West 2012)) by attempting to "recall" the plaintiffs into part-time rather than full-time positions. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The court granted the defendant's motion, denied the plaintiffs' motion, and entered judgment for the defendants. The plaintiffs filed this appeal.

         ¶ 10 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 11 Summary judgment is properly granted when the pleadings, depositions, and affidavits show that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2012); Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill.2d 90, 102 (1990). When parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, they agree that only a question of law is involved and invite the court to decide the issues based upon the stipulated record. Pielet v. Pielet, 2012 IL 112064, ¶ 28. Where a case is decided on summary judgment, our review is de novo. Schultz v. Illinois Farmers Insurance Co., 237 Ill.2d 391, 399-400 (2010). De ...


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