Public bodies exceeding their constitutional and/or statutory authority
A school district placed a referendum on the ballot seeking to increase the school’s property tax limiting rate. The school district engaged in a number of activities to encourage voters to support the referendum, including hosting a student rally, producing a television program, mailing referendum literature, allowing teachers to blog on the subject, and providing school space to pro-referendum groups.
Although the referendum was defeated, Mr. Peraica and Taxpayers United of America (TUA) filed suit against the school district. The group claimed that the school district had deprived them of the right to free speech under the first amendment to the United States Constitution, because they were “forced to struggle against the public funds” in their opposition to the referendum. The taxpayer group alleged that the school deprived them of a constitutional right under the appearance of authority, in violation of section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.
The Illinois Fourth Division appellate court agreed with the trial court’s dismissal of the claims in favor of the school district.
NOTE: Two of the group’s claims did not reach appeal:
1. Mr. Peraica and TUA had claimed that the school violated the Property Tax Code by understating the amount of the tax increase.
2. Mr. Peraica and TUA had alleged that the school violated section 9-25.1 of the Illinois Election Code, which says that schools cannot use public funds in support of a proposition. The court replied that claims under the Election Code are properly made to the Board of Elections.
Referendums are complicated and school officials should always consult the board attorney throughout the process.
Brennan McLoughlin, IASB Law Clerk