Bd. of Educ. of Roxana Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Reg'l Bd. of Sch. Trs. of Madison Cnty.

Citation2021 IL App (5th) 200277,191 N.E.3d 559,455 Ill.Dec. 252
Decision Date20 September 2021
Docket Number5-20-0277
Parties The BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ROXANA COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, MADISON COUNTY, Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The REGIONAL BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF MADISON COUNTY, Illinois; Robert W. Werden, in His Official Capacity as ex officio Secretary of Regional Board of School Trustees of Madison County, Illinois; Robert A. Daiber, in His Official Capacity as the Former ex officio Secretary of Regional Board of School Trustees of Madison County, Illinois; Jay Hesse; Sharon Hesse; and the Board of Education of Edwardsville Community Unit School District No. 7, Madison County, Illinois, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Robert L. Jackstadt, of Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt, P.C., of Edwardsville, for appellant.

William W. Schooley III, of Collinsville, for appellees Regional Board of School Trustees of Madison County, Robert W. Werden, and Robert A. Daiber.

Katherine M. Smith, of Alton, for appellees Jay Hesse and Sharon Hesse.

No brief filed for other appellee.

JUSTICE BARBERIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 Sharon and Jay Hesse (the Hesses), appellees, petitioned the Regional Board of School Trustees of Madison County (the Board), co-appellee (hereinafter collectively referred to as the appellees), to detach their property from the boundaries of the Roxana Community Unit School District No. 1 (the Roxana District), appellant, and annex it into the boundaries of the Edwardsville Community Unit School District No. 7 (the Edwardsville District) with the intention of sending their only son, Holden, to school in the Edwardsville District. After a hearing, the Board granted the Hesses’ petition. On administrative review, the circuit court of Madison County affirmed the Board's decision. The Roxana District appeals from that order. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

¶ 2 I. Background

¶ 3 On April 29, 2019, the Hesses filed a petition with the Board, seeking to detach their property from the Roxana District and annex it to the Edwardsville District. On June 24, 2019, the Board held a public hearing on the Hesses’ petition. Prior to the hearing, both the Roxana and Edwardsville Districts objected to the Hesses’ petition. We have limited the background summary to the testimony and evidence adduced at the hearing that is pertinent to this appeal.

¶ 4 At the hearing, the Hesses, Dr. Lynda Andre, Mr. Steve Oertle, and Ms. Debra Kreutztrager, among others, testified. Prior to testimony, the Board introduced into evidence several exhibits without objection. Pertinent to this appeal, the Board asked the parties if there was an objection to admitting the school report cards of the Roxana and Edwardsville Districts (Trustees’ Exhibit 7). Trustees’ Exhibit 7 highlighted the Roxana and Edwardsville Districts separately by illustrating the following information: student characteristics, proficiency rates in English Language Arts and Mathematics; graduate rates;1 academic success in English Language Arts and Mathematics on the SAT within the district, state, and by student group (i.e. , white, black, Hispanic, low income, and student with disabilities); college readiness; district finance; achievement gap; student attendance and mobility; and educator measures focusing on principal and teacher retention. Additionally, Trustees’ Exhibit 7 provided information related to three categories of student populations, including minority, low-income, and English learners. In the minority category, the Edwardsville District had a 9% higher student population than the Roxana District (21% versus 11%).2 In the low-income category, the Roxana District had a 29% higher student population than the Edwardsville District (47% versus 18%), and in the English learners category, the Edwardsville District had a 1% higher student population than the Roxana District (1% versus 0%).

¶ 5 Counsel for the Roxana District timely objected on the grounds that school report cards, under "the new statute, effective January 1, 2016," were not admissible in detachment-annexation hearings when there was more than a 3% difference in any one of the student populations. Following this objection, the following conversation took place:

"MR. JACKSTADT [(COUNSEL FOR THE ROXANA DISTRICT)]: For the Board members, if you look at the agenda, and we discussed this in the orientation, the statute was amended a few years ago to indicate that we could not use School Report Cards, if there was more than a three percent difference in low income and minority. And there was one other—Hispanic.
MR. SCHOOLEY [(BOARD MEMBER)]: Hispanic, is that it?
MR. CURRY [(BOARD MEMBER)]: English learners.
MR. SCHOOLEY: Yeah, English learners, difference between the two districts. In other words, between Edwardsville and Roxana. We can't use, therefore, the School Report Cards in so much as they show the differences in the two. But on the face of them, it does establish that *** the difference between the two districts is more than three percent."

The Board further stated that the school report cards were marked as an "Exhibit so that the record is clear, that we *** will not be considering those because of that three percent difference, which is shown on the Report Cards." Subsequently, the Board admitted Trustees’ Exhibit 7 "for the limited purpose of showing that there is a more than three percent difference in the low[-]income students." Following this discussion, the following testimony was adduced.

¶ 6 Jay testified to the following. Jay and Sharon had lived at their current residence, 10 Hesse Lane in Edwardsville, Illinois, for 17 years. The Hesses’ home was located in the Roxana District. The Hesses had one child, Holden, born on February 10, 2010, who had attended St. Boniface Catholic School in Edwardsville, Illinois, since prekindergarten. However, the Hesses wished to send Holden to Woodland Elementary in Edwardsville as a result of the family's connection with the Edwardsville community. According to Jay, Holden had developed his social circle in Edwardsville through his participation in baseball, basketball, soccer, martial arts, and Cub Scouts. In addition, Jay and Sharon supervised Holden's Cub Scouts den and had also coached his soccer and baseball teams in the past. Specific to school, the Hesses wanted Holden to attend a larger school with bigger class sizes, given his class at St. Boniface had only 30 children (5 boys and 22 girls) in attendance. Jay indicated that the Hesses did not have friends in Roxana because they did not spend much time there.

¶ 7 Dr. Andre, superintendent of the Edwardsville District, testified to the following. The Edwardsville District objected to the Hesses’ petition for a number of reasons, including the existence of strict residency rules, contractual class size limits, and the financial impact on enrollment costs on the Edwardsville District for accepting additional students, especially students not within the boundaries of the district. Specifically, Dr. Andre testified that "growing the [Edwardsville] [D]istrict at another district's expense is not something that we would do [to] any of the nine districts that surround our boundaries."

¶ 8 Sharon testified to the following. Aside from the fact that the majority of Holden's friends lived in Edwardsville, the Edwardsville District also offered ample opportunity for Holden to engage in activities, such as baseball, karate, soccer, music, and robotics. Sharon indicated that the Edwardsville District "is just good at pretty much everything. And *** whatever he decided to get into, they'll [Edwardsville District] have a lot to offer for him." Sharon admitted that, at the time of the hearing, she had not talked with Mr. Steve Oertle, assistant superintendent of the Roxana District, about the programs and curriculum offered at the Roxana District.

¶ 9 Mr. Oertle, assistant superintendent of the Roxana District, testified to the following. As a father, Mr. Oertle's children attended the Edwardsville District. With that said, he testified that he was very familiar with the programs and curriculum offered by both districts. Mr. Oertle expressed his disappointment with the technology offered to students in the classroom at the Edwardsville District. In contrast, the Roxana District offered students a digital curriculum with the use of school laptops that accompanied classroom textbooks. According to Mr. Oertle, the Roxana District offered its students a robust education with a new STEM room that would open in the junior high, a robotics program, computer programming for students interested in engineering, and numerous sports. Mr. Oertle confirmed that he had never met or given the Hesses a tour of the Roxana District. In his opinion, there was no significant, direct educational benefit to Holden if the change in boundaries was allowed.

¶ 10 Following Mr. Oertle's testimony, the Board discussed the use of the school report cards in comparing the Roxana and Edwardsville Districts and in considering the Hesses’ petition. The following discussion ensued:

"MR. SCHOOLEY: The statute says, and let me say, ‘Only if there is no more than a three percent difference in minority, low income, and English learner student population.’ It does not use the word or. So, the question is—
MR. BRASE [(BOARD MEMBER)]: So we use—
MR. SCHOOLEY:—does all three of them have to be present to buy their cards, or only one. Mr. Jackstadt's [counsel for the Roxana District] position is going to be only one, and that's the low income. The other two, if you look at them, minority and English, there is no difference essentially between the two districts. And, in fact, Edwardsville may have a higher minority and English learner student population. So—
MR. BRASE: So, here's my question: You know, can we talk about them? And the answer is: We don't know?
MR. SCHOOLEY: We don't know.
***
MR.
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