ANN WALSH BRADLEY, J.
The petitioner, Stockbridge School District (Stockbridge), seeks review of a published decision of the court of appeals.
The relevant facts are undisputed. Residents of the Stockbridge School District filed petitions to detach their property from the district pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 117.12.
Stockbridge appealed the Board's orders to the Manitowoc County circuit court.
The only issues courts may consider on appeals from school reorganizations are whether the Board acted within its jurisdiction and whether its order was arbitrary and capricious. Joint Sch. Dist. No. 2 v. State Appeal Bd., 83 Wis.2d 711, 720, 266 N.W.2d 374 (1978); Larson v. State Appeal Bd., 56 Wis.2d 823, 825, 202 N.W.2d 920 (1973). Because Stockbridge has abandoned its argument that the Board's actions were arbitrary and capricious, we limit our discussion to the jurisdictional arguments as presented by Stockbridge.
We first address Stockbridge's argument that the Board can only exercise its jurisdiction to detach parcels from one district and attach them to another district under § 117.12, if the parcels to be detached border the school district of attachment. This requires us to interpret the language of § 117.12. The interpretation of a statute presents a question of law that this court reviews de novo. Town of Clearfield v. Cushman, 150 Wis.2d 10, 19, 440 N.W.2d 777 (1989). Our sole purpose when interpreting a statute is to ascertain the intent of the legislature. Marshall-Wis. v. Juneau
The statutory language at issue states that § 117.12 "applies to the detachment of territory from one school district and its attachment to an adjoining school district...." § 117.12(1). Both Stockbridge and the Board contend that this language is clear on its face and, therefore, it is not necessary to engage in statutory construction to determine its meaning.
Stockbridge focusses on the word "attachment" to interpret the statute. It argues that because the plain meaning of attachment embodies the concept of physical
The lower courts also disagreed on the proper interpretation of the statute. The circuit court interpreted the language using a plain meaning approach, but relied on a dictionary definition of attachment as referring to "attachment for an administrative or political purpose," not actual physical connection. The court of appeals concluded that the key to understanding § 117.12(1) is the word "adjoining" and not "attachment." According to the court of appeals, "[t]he real question posed by the statute as applied here is `what must adjoin—the parcel and the attaching district or
Ambiguity arises where the language may be reasonably construed in two different ways. State ex rel. Girouard v. Circuit Court, 155 Wis.2d 148, 155, 454 N.W.2d 792 (1990). Although the mere fact that parties interpret a statute differently does not create ambiguity, this court has recognized that different yet equally reasonable interpretations by various decision-making bodies is indicative that a statute may support more than one reasonable interpretation. Harnischfeger Corp. v. LIRC, 196 Wis.2d 650, 662, 539 N.W.2d 98 (1995).
We are persuaded by the court of appeals' approach that the key to understanding the statute lies in the term "adjoining" rather than "attachment." Contrary to Stockbridge's plain meaning argument, the word "attachment" does not mandate an actual physical connection. As the circuit court recognized, "attachment" may reasonably indicate a connection for an administrative or political purpose, or an emotional bond by affection, sympathy, or loyalty. Further, Stockbridge's argument focusses only on the word attachment to the exclusion of the remaining language in the sentence. There is additional ambiguity when the sentence is considered in its entirety. We agree with the court of appeals that upon considering the word "adjoining," the statute is ambiguous because it may be reasonably interpreted in two different ways. The court of appeals aptly described the ambiguity as follows:
Because we conclude that the statute is ambiguous, we next turn to extrinsic matters such as the statute's history, context, and object in order to ascertain the legislature's intent. Jungbluth, 201 Wis.2d at 327. Upon considering the parties' arguments regarding these statutory construction aids, we conclude, as did the court of appeals, that the legislative history of § 117.12 compels the conclusion that the statute does not require that the detaching parcel border the school district of attachment.
The court of appeals engaged in a comprehensive legislative history analysis of § 117.12 and its predecessors, which we briefly summarize here. The first statute that specifically addressed the detachment of small parcels, Wis. Stat. § 40.032 (1961-62), provided that property may be detached from one school district and attached to an adjoining school district "[i]f the owner of an individual parcel of property adjoining the boundary line between 2 school districts submits a written petition." As recognized by the court of appeals, this language explicitly provided that the parcel to be detached must have a common boundary with the school district of attachment.
See Wis. Stat. § 117.08 (1981-82), created by Laws of 1981, ch. 177, § 6. According to an analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau, the new language substantially changed the statute to allow any property owner to petition for detachment of his or her parcel, regardless of its location within the district:
Legislative Reference Bureau Analysis of 1981 Senate Bill 392 (emphasis added). This change was reiterated in a fiscal estimate attached to the same bill. See Fiscal Estimate of 1981 Senate Bill 392.
After this apparent change in the law, the statute was changed in 1983 and again in 1989 into its present ambiguous form. See 1983 Wis. Act 27, § 1465; 1989 Wis. Act 114. Because the court of appeals found nothing to indicate that the legislature intended to modify its explicit position taken in 1981, it concluded that § 117.12(1) requires only that the school districts adjoin, not that the detaching parcel adjoin the school
This court has previously held that the analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau is significant in determining legislative intent. Milwaukee v. Kilgore, 193 Wis.2d 168, 184, 532 N.W.2d 690 (1995). Although the language of § 117.08 has subsequently been revised and is ambiguous as it now appears in § 117.12(1), we have found no similar statement in the subsequent history to indicate that the legislature intended to modify the change made in 1981. Further, counsel for Stockbridge conceded at oral argument that there is no legislative history to support its construction of the statute. Accordingly, we conclude that the legislative history analysis set forth by the court of appeals is compelling and indicates that the legislature intended to allow the detachment of island parcels.
For example, both the court of appeals and the Board point to the language of Wis. Stat. § 117.15 (5) as providing significant guidance on the question of whether § 117.12 prohibits island detachments. Section 117.15 (5) requires that when deciding petitions a school board must consider "whether the proposed reorganization will make any part of a school district's territory noncontiguous." The Board argues that because it is required to consider whether a district will be noncontiguous as a result of a reorganization, § 117.15 (5) expressly contemplates that islands could be detached. Stockbridge contends that § 117.15 (5) requires that the Board consider only whether a proposed detachment will make an island, not whether the proposed detachment is an island. We are unpersuaded by either party's arguments that § 117.15(5) provides sufficient evidence of the legislature's intent.
This court has long held that school district reorganization represents the determination of policy questions of a legislative nature which the legislature has delegated to the Board. Larson, 56 Wis.2d at 826. Therefore, courts do not review the policy, wisdom or fairness of a particular reorganization decision, except to determine whether the Board's decision was arbitrary and capricious. See Zawerschnik v. Joint County Sch. Comm., 271 Wis. 416, 73 N.W.2d 566 (1955).
Stockbridge's argument that allowing islands to be detached will potentially decimate smaller school districts is misleading because such a result can occur even under its own interpretation of § 117.12(1). For example, nothing, would prohibit a large number of individual border properties with a substantial portion
Such reorganizations, while still possible, are less likely today given that the legislature has since provided the Board with specific factors set forth in Wis. Stat. § 117.15 which it must consider before detaching boundary or "island" parcels. Under § 117.15, the Board must consider factors such as: (1) the geographical characteristics of the affected school districts and travel time (Wis. Stat. § 117.15(1)), (2) the educational needs of all of the children residing in the affected school districts and the ability of each district to meet those needs (Wis. Stat. § 117.15(2)), (3) any adverse effect on curricular and extracurricular programs of each district (Wis. Stat. § 117.15(2m)), and (4) the fiscal effect of the proposed reorganization (Wis. Stat. § 117.15(4)).
Accordingly, Stockbridge's fears of wide-scale decimation of school districts and property owners "leap-frogging" across the state are largely unfounded. In fact, this case is illustrative of the process intended by the legislature. Counsel represented at oral argument that the property proposed to be detached represented
If, as Stockbridge submits, the legislature meant something other than what the legislative history indicates, the remedy is not in the courts. Modifications of the statute, if it works badly or in undesirable ways feared by Stockbridge, must be obtained through legislative, not judicial, action. See State ex rel. Badtke v. School Bd., 1 Wis.2d 208, 213, 83 N.W.2d 724 (1957). In the meantime, this court will continue to review the legislative decisions made by the Board as it has in the past, determining whether the Board acted within its jurisdiction and whether its order was arbitrary and capricious. Larson, 56 Wis.2d at 825.
In sum, we conclude that the explicit legislative history of the predecessor to § 117.12(1) provides the most persuasive evidence of the legislature's intent. None of Stockbridge's arguments related to the context, scope, or public policy served by the statute is compelling enough to overcome the legislature's stated intention in 1981 to allow any property owner to petition for detachment and attachment to an adjoining district.
We next address Stockbridge's second jurisdictional argument, that one of the Board's orders is void because it dealt with territory included in a prior and pending reorganization petition contrary to Wis. Stat. § 117.05(4)(b)1. That statute provides that while a reorganization is pending, "any other reorganization proceeding commenced or order made that includes any territory included in the pending reorganization
Our review of the record reveals that evidence of the overlap complained of by Stockbridge has never been fully developed throughout these proceedings. We note that the evidence in the record fails to conclusively establish an overlap between Petitions No. 1 and 16. For example, the petitions on their face do not establish an overlap because Petition No. 16 lacks any legal description of the property to be detached. Stockbridge in its brief relies only on a map it submitted to the Board as an exhibit to indicate the overlap. However, the map indicates by its legend that Petitioned Area 16 is a "Possible Petition Overlap." A spokesperson in favor of detachment testified that while there was an overlap, it was due to a clerical error.
Even assuming that the record supports a finding that Petitioned Areas 1 and 16 overlap, no such finding has ever been made. Stockbridge asserts that the Board failed to decide this issue. However, this court has previously recognized the "fundamental policy that parties to an administrative proceeding must raise known issues and objections and that all efforts should be directed toward developing a record that is as complete as possible in order to facilitate subsequent judicial review of the record." Omernick v. DNR, 100 Wis.2d 234, 248, 301 N.W.2d 437, cert. denied, 454 U.S. 883
We note that the court of appeals was also troubled by the inadequacy of the record in considering this issue, and concluded that even if there were error, Stockbridge "invited" it because it likewise considered the overlapping petitions when initially denying them. See Stockbridge, 192 Wis. 2d at 632 & n. 10. In essence, Stockbridge now seeks to prevent the Board from doing the very thing that it did, that is, make a determination on a petition which allegedly contains property described in a previously filed petition. Because the overlap issue was neither developed adequately by Stockbridge nor decided by the Board, and the error complained of was facilitated by Stockbridge's actions, we agree with the conclusion of the court of appeals.