In Merchant v. Regional Board of School Trustees of Lake County, 2014 IL App (2d) 131277, the Illinois appellate court disagreed with a decision of a Regional Board of School Trustees to deny a petition to annex a subdivision to the residents’ preferred school districts.
The case arose when residents of a subdivision in Waukegan petitioned their Regional School Board of Trustees to detach the subdivision from its current school districts and annex it into two neighboring districts. Both the current and the proposed school districts opposed the petition.
The residents and the school districts stipulated that there would be no financial detriment to any of the school districts if the petition was granted. After considering the evidence, the Regional Board denied the petition, finding that the residents failed to demonstrate sufficient educational benefit from the annexation. On appeal, the trial court held that the Regional Board’s decision was clearly erroneous and that the petition should have been granted.
On September 30, 2014, the appellate court agreed with the trial court, noting the same clear errors. First, the appellate court found the Regional Board erred in failing to adequately consider the reduced travel times and distances to the schools in the proposed districts. The court clarified that a reduced commute is not sufficient by itself to justify annexation, but it is a proper consideration— one the Regional Board should have resolved in favor of the residents.
Next, the court determined that the Regional Board erred in its assessment of the residents’ community of interest with the desired districts. To demonstrate a community of interest sufficient to support annexation, the residents were only required to show an “identification” with the new districts. The court found that the residents’ evidence on this point—such as the fact that their children already participated in extra-curricular activities in the proposed districts—was overwhelming. Finally, the Regional Board erred in failing to consider the residents’ evidence that annexation would increase their property values.
The court concluded that in the absence of a financial detriment—as was stipulated in this case—the residents were only required to establish some benefit to the educational welfare of the students residing in the annexed property. According to the court, the residents presented sufficient evidence to carry that burden, and the Regional Board erred in denying the petition.
The Merchant decision clearly favors petitioners seeking to detach school territory and annex it to other school districts. Contact Rob Swain with questions concerning your school detachment and annexation issues.