|IASB JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE|
2004 JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE
School attorneys urged to challenge tax appeals
School districts that stand to lose revenue because of any large, unexplained property
tax refund should investigate the circumstances carefully, one school attorney says.
School district representatives should begin by filing requests under the Freedom of
Information Act to the county board of review for documents relating to the assessment
appeal, but they should also seek explanations from the county assessor's legal
"The state's attorney's office also needs to be contacted for
explanations about such refunds," according to attorney Ares G. Dalianis, who spoke
during a pre-conference seminar on school law.
Dalianis appeared at the 18th annual school law seminar, held Friday, Nov. 19, 2004, at
the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The event is sponsored by the Illinois Council of School
Attorneys, which is affiliated with IASB and the National School Boards Association. The
event gave school attorneys a chance to discuss vital legal issues facing their school
clients, including harassment claims, student residency challenges, and special education
Dalianis, of Franczek Sullivan, P.C., told assembled school attorneys that both the law
department of the state's attorney's office and the county assessor's
office were helpful in getting a Cook County tax appeal reversed. As a result of his
challenge to a successful property tax appeal, the lion's share of a questionable
$1.7 million tax refund was ordered to be repaid to local schools and other taxing
districts. The order concerned an Oak Park hospital's successful property tax appeal
for an under-occupied medical office building.
The five-story building was built in 2000 and opened in January 2001 next door to the
hospital. The entire new building was "master leased" to the hospital, which
legally meant tax revenue would not be dependent on the occupancy rate of the building.
Yet the hospital had sought and won a tax appeal based on an irrelevant claim that nearly
80 percent of the building was not occupied.
Another seminar discussion dealt with preparing a law case to challenge a
student's residency. Attorney James G. Wargo, of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins, Ltd.,
said a school district's residency investigator is commonly a key witness in student
Proving residency under Illinois law requires: 1) a student's physical presence at
a fixed nighttime abode within the school district on a regular or continual basis; and 2)
intent to make that location a permanent home.
Wargo also said photos are an extremely helpful form of evidence in such cases, but
school investigators may also gather information from interviews, observations, and
witnesses as admissible evidence. Finally, investigators must strive to state the facts as
simply as possible, he said.
On yet another hot legal topic - school board ethics and gift ban policies -
attorney Vernon A Kowal, of Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, LLP, said enforcement of
the State Officials and Employee Ethics Act falls into a gray area.
"Many attorneys believe that school boards do not have the authority to prosecute
offenders and adjudicate fines and penalties," according to Kowal. "However, the
only way the statute seems to work at all would be as the [Illinois] Attorney General
outlines, i.e., that school boards have an implied duty to prosecute offenders and
adjudicate fines and penalties..."
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