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updated: 5/18/2017 3:45 PM

DuPage official calls for dissolving regional school board

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  • Darlene Ruscitti

    Darlene Ruscitti

 
 

The DuPage County Regional Board of School Trustees has one primary role: to decide whether groups of homeowners can leave one school district and join another.

But the petitions being considered by the seven-member panel have become so technical and complex that one countywide elected official is questioning whether the board should continue to exist.

Darlene Ruscitti, the DuPage regional superintendent of schools, says she wants state law changed to disband regional boards and instead require judges to decide if neighborhoods can detach from school districts. She's hoping to find state lawmakers willing to propose such legislation.

Ruscitti said the change is needed because there's often significant legal issues the board must address when making its deannexation decisions.

"They're making legal determinations without the legal background," Ruscitti said. "They're good citizens who have stepped up to the plate. They do their due diligence, but this doesn't make sense anymore."

The board's responsibilities are limited. In addition to detachments, it only reviews instances when school districts withdraw from cooperatives or when districts consolidate.

Ruscitti said cooperative agreements often are ended without any issues. Meanwhile, a district merger hasn't been proposed in DuPage in Ruscitti's 15 years as regional superintendent.

During that time, the board has approved five petitions from homeowner groups wanting to detach from school districts.

All five decisions were challenged in the courts by the school districts that didn't want to lose the homeowners -- and the property taxes they pay. School districts get about 73 percent of the tax bill in DuPage.

Only one of the board's decisions was affirmed after being reviewed by the circuit and appellate courts. That case affected a small group of homes.

The four other decisions were overturned.

And while members of the regional board of school trustees aren't paid, the hearings they conduct still cost taxpayers money. That's because the regional office of education must devote staff time and other resources for each hearing.

One petition the board reviewed required a dozen nights of hearings. The board is planning to have five nights of hearings for a current petition filed by a small group of Oak Brook residents wanting to annex into Butler Elementary District 53 and Hinsdale High School District 86.

Ruscitti said her staff is working to determine how much money has been spent on the past hearings. But she believes the cost is considerable because petition signatures must be verified and maps and documents must be created. An assistant state's attorney also must attend each hearing.

Since the petitions are going to end up in the courts anyway, Ruscitti says judges should review them from the start. She is proposing that regional superintendents review petitions to simply make sure they're valid. The petitions then would go to the circuit court.

"Go fight it in court," Ruscitti said. "I think it's a much more balanced, fair and cost-effective way to go about doing it, rather than have eight or 12 nights of hearings."

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