After five nights of hearings, the Regional Board of School Trustees of DuPage County (“Regional Board”) voted on July 10, 2017, to reject a petition that sought to detach 24 residential lots in the Midwest Club Subdivision in Oakbrook, Illinois from Downers Grove Grade School District No. 58 and Community High School District No. 99 and annex those properties to Butler School District No. 53 and Hinsdale Township High School District No. 86. This was the first detachment and annexation petition heard by the Regional Board since an amendment to the School Code that became effective January 1, 2016, added new criteria and limited certain evidence that regional boards may consider when determining whether to grant a petition to detach and annex territory. HLERK attorneys James Levi and Chris Hoffmann represented Districts 58, 99, and 86 in opposition to the petition (District 53 remained neutral).
One of the key changes to the School Code that played a role in this petition was the School Code’s limitation on when regional boards may consider the petitioners’ “community of interest” (i.e., the community where the petitioners identify, go to school, worship, do business, shop, seek entertainment and culture, etc.). Under the amended School Code procedures, the petitioners’ “community of interest” may not be considered unless the regional board first determines that there would be a “significant direct educational benefit” to the petitioners’ children if the petition is granted.
Here, the evidence showed that the detaching and annexing school districts all offer comprehensive and comparable educational and extra-curricular programming such that there was no “significant direct educational benefit” to granting the petition. Accordingly, the Regional Board did not consider the petitioners’ “community of interest” in making its decision even though the Regional Board’s President commented that it was “a compelling issue in this case” given that the detachment area was the only portion of the Midwest Club Subdivision that was not already located within Districts 53 and 86.
The Regional Board also found there was no benefit to granting the petition that outweighed the resulting detriments to the school districts and surrounding community as a whole. In addition to the financial impact on Districts 58 and 99 that would result from the loss of tax revenue, the Regional Board also found there would be a “substantial detriment” to District 86. In particular, Hinsdale Central High School would serve the detachment area if the petition was granted, and District 86 presented evidence establishing that the student population there already exceeds the school’s optimum capacity. As the school districts opposed to the petition argued, adding additional residential property and students to Hinsdale Central’s attendance area would only serve to exacerbate the difficulties with planning and scheduling classes caused by overcrowding.
This petition is a good illustration of how the changes to the School Code in the detachment/annexation process place educational issues ahead of secondary issues like where the petitioners do their shopping or play tennis.
For more information about the detachment and annexation process, please contact James Levi or Chris Hoffmann.