Becker v. Board of Ed. of Benton County

Citation138 N.W.2d 909,258 Iowa 277
Decision Date14 December 1965
Docket NumberNo. 51766,51766
PartiesArlo BECKER, Sr., et al., Appellants, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF BENTON COUNTY et al., Appellees.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

Fisher & Pickens, Cedar Rapids, for appellants.

Bordewick, Fischer & Fischer, Vinton, for appellees Consolidated School Districts of Van Horne, Blairstown, Keystone, and Newhall.

Keith Mossman, Vinton, Benton County Atty., for Board of Education of Benton County and Floyd L. Ellson, Superintendent of Schools of Benton County.

MOORE, Justice.

This is an action in certiorari by electors of the Consolidated School District of Newhall to test the legality of the formation of the school districts of Van Horne, Blairstown, Keystone and Newhall into a reorganized district now known as Benton Community School District, under the provisions of chapter 275, Code, 1962. Following trial the writ was annulled and plaintiffs' petition dismissed. They have appealed under rule 318, Rules of Civil Procedure. We approve the trial court's order.

Plaintiffs' petition alleged over 20 errors in the reorganization proceedings. None was established according to the trial court's detailed findings and conclusions. The scope of this appeal, however, is limited to the assigned errors of the trial court in holding (1) the average daily attendance classification in section 275.20 is constitutional, and (2) there was no unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.

Beginning in October 1957 many joint planning meetings of the county boards of education of Benton, Iowa, Tama and Poweshiek counties were held which resulted in adoption of a tentative joint county plan. It was approved by the state superintendent of public instruction. Careful study, meetings of citizens committees and the boards, and straw votes led to a decision by the joint boards to adopt a plan and submit it to the voters. The plan was submitted to and approved by the state superintendent of public instruction.

The first election involving formation of the Blairstown, Keystone, Newhall and Van Horne consolidated school districts into a reorganized district to be known as Benton Community School District was held February 14, 1963. Blairstown and Newhall voted down the proposition and it was rejected.

Planning by the joint boards continued. They obtained the assistance and advice of Dr. Knutson of Cedar Falls, a recognized expert in the field of education and school reorganization.

After the first election the Newhall board met with its citizens committee and dicided not to continue planning with the other three boards. This met with no opposition and the other boards continued their meetings and planning. Soon thereafter, however, a petition was circulated in the Newhall district asking its board to again join in planning with the other three boards. The petition was signed by about 62 percent of the Newhall electors, including some of the plaintiffs. The Newhall board then resumed planning with the others.

On June 24, 1963 the four boards voted to circulate formal petitions for a second election. On October 14, 1963 petitions were filed with the Benton county superintendent of schools. They bore the required number of signatures of electors from each of the four districts together with affidavits as required by sections 275.12 and 275.13, Code, 1962. Some objections were filed and considered at a properly called meeting of the joint boards. The joint boards decided to remove certain sections of the Newhall district from the reorganization plan so they could join the Vinton district to the north. All other objections were overruled. A petition calling for an appeal to the state superintendent of public instruction was thereafter filed with the Newhall board. Such an appeal was taken. On January 24, 1964 the state superintendent approved the reorganization. He found the proposal was sound, it had the capabilities to provide an educational program superior to that then available, the district was well constituted, the proposed enrollment would be approximately 1500 pupils and the financial resources were adequate. Newhall did not appeal this ruling to the district court.

Pursuant to proper preliminary steps and notice the election was held on March 10, 1964. The tabulation of the election results is as follows:

                 District    Yes  No    Total
                Blairstown   310  232     542
                Van Horne    351  133     484
                Keystone     285  207     492
                Newhall      186  320     506
                            ----  ----  -----
                            1132  892    2024

Section 275.20, as pertinent here, provides: '* * * If the proposition receives a majority of the votes cast in each of at least seventy-five percent of the said districts, and also a majority of the total number of votes cast in all of said districts, the proposition shall be deemed carried. Provided, however, that if two or more of the school districts affected have a resident average daily attendance in public schools of three hundred or more pupils who were enrolled in public schools in the preceding School year, the proposition must also receive a majority of the votes cast in each of said districts in order to be deemed carried, and in such districts the entire existing district shall vote.'

The official school records for the 1962-63 school year show the average daily attendance for Blairstown was 390.5, Van Horne 326.0, Keystone, 415.0 and Newhall 297.07.

Applying the election returns to the provisions of section 275.20 it is clear a majority vote was cast in 75 percent of the districts and that each district having a resident average daily attendance of 300 or more pupils voted for the proposition. Newhall did not so vote but a favorable vote was not required as its resident average daily attendance was under 300. The election was declared carried.

Plaintiffs' petition for a writ of certiorari was filed April 2, 1964. The writ was ordered and issued on April 23. On April 10 the election of Benton Community School District Directors was held and on April 13 the new board met and elected a president.

Appellees first argue quo warranto is the exclusive remedy to test the legality of the school district organization after the board and its president had been elected. Appellants point out their petition was filed before such elections.

The entire controversy was tried and submitted to the trial court as a certiorari action. It was tried as an ordinary action at law. We prefer to decide the case upon the merits in the form submitted to the trial court. Accordingly we make no pronouncement upon the question of the form of action.

On trial of the many issues appellants attempted to impeach the Newhall school record in regard to the resident average daily attendance by other evidence. The trial court found that assuming appellants' claimed errors were proven the figure would not exceed 297.46. Appellants do not argue this finding is erroneous but make their sole attack on the constitutionality of section 275.20.

Appellants contend the average daily attendance classification in section 275.20 violates Amendment 14 to the Constitution of the United States and Article I, section 6, of the Iowa Constitution.

Section 6 provides: 'All laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation; the General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.'

The material part of Amendment 14 to the Constitution of the United States provides: 'No State shall make or enforce any law which shall * * * deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'

The federal court cases establish the general rule that the equal protection clause of Amendment 14 does not take from the state the power to classify in the adoption of public laws, but permits the exercise of a wide scope of discretion in that regard. Legislation will be held void only when it is without reasonable basis and therefore purely arbitrary. The equal protection clause goes no further than to prohibit invidious discrimination. Smith v. Cahoon, 283 U.S. 553, 51 S.Ct. 582, 75 L.Ed. 1264; Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Ins. Co. v. Harrison, 301 U.S. 459, 57 S.Ct. 838, 81 L.Ed. 1223; Morey v. Doud, 354 U.S. 457, 77 S.Ct. 1344, 1 L.Ed.2d 1485; McLaughlin v. State of Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 85 S.Ct. 283, 13 L.Ed.2d 222; Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 85 S.Ct. 775, 13 L.Ed.2d 675.

This court has adopted and consistently applied the same general rule. Dunahoo v. Huber, 185 Iowa 753, 171 N.W. 123; State ex rel. Welsh v. Darling, 216 Iowa 553, 246 N.W. 390, 88 A.L.R. 218; Dickinson v. Porter, 240 Iowa 393, 35 N.W.2d 66 (appeal dismissed 338 U.S. 843, 70 S.Ct. 88, 94 L.Ed. 515); Sperry & Hutchinson Co. v. Hoegh, 246 Iowa 9, 65 N.W.2d 410; Steinberg-Baum & Co. v. Countryman, 247 Iowa 923, 77 N.W.2d 15; Diamond Auto Sales, Inc. v. Erbe, 251 Iowa 1330, 105 N.W.2d 650; Chicago & N. W. Ry. Co. v. Fachman, 255 Iowa 989, 125 N.W.2d 210.

In Collins v. State Board of Social Welfare, 248 Iowa 369, 375, 81 N.W.2d 4, 7, we said: 'The general rule is that if there is any reasonable ground for the classification and it operates equally upon all within the same class, there is uniformity in the constitutional sense.'

We need not consider the two constitutional provisions separately since the...

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