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School Officials Move Forward to Enforce Student Residency Policy

by Karen Haave

Crete-Monee School officials continue to move toward enforcement of District 201-U policy that forbids enrollment of so-called boundary jumpers.

Letters explaining the district’s stand on the issue are being sent to every family with children currently enrolled.

If a student’s residency is in question, the letter will outline procedures to verify residency and mitigate the district’s doubt.

The letters stipulate that, if a child ultimately is found to live out of the district, the family will be required to pay a full year’s tuition, totaling $12,586.09 (estimated operating expense per pupil) to the District.  If the child is enrolled in special needs programs, the tuition is said to be almost double.

Crete-Monee officials have hired a private investigative firm to ferret out families that do not live within district boundaries. A lengthy explanation of the logic behind that decision, as well as the procedure involved, is given on the district’s website, which notes that “The school district is not staffed with a dedicated person to perform these extensive residency checks, as the office is comprised of only one registrar.”

At the same time, the website points out that the district previously used private investigative firms from 2004-2012,  at a total cost of $56,899.81.

But out-of-district residents reportedly were identified as a problem as far back as 1992, and a few years later, the district added new requirements for proof of residency.

Members of the Board of Education last year became concerned about the seemingly growing number of students believed to live out of the district and hired National Investigations, Inc.,  the largest residency investigations firm in Illinois, which works with over 50 school districts.

Its initial findings turned up a surprisingly high number of red-flag students. Officials said that 1,400 students were tentatively identified, conceding that many of those names might be included in error.

A final count of non-residents students is not yet available, as the process continues.

In the meantime, Board of Education President Jennifer Gasbarro is discounting social media claims that there are families “on the fringes” of district boundaries which are being targeted.

“Our boundaries are clearly identified,” she said.

“There are, to my knowledge, no ‘fringes.’

“Letters are being sent to those who have been identified as not living within the district-set boundaries.”

Natalie Nash, director of community relations for Crete-Monee, confirmed that all families enrolled in district schools will receive a letter, either confirming their residency or notifying them that the district has challenged it.

“The letters are being sent manually and require a little extra production time,” she said.

“The process has just begun, and we expect it to go through the end of April.

“Our public may also view the letters by visiting our district website and clicking the ‘Residency FAQ’ page at http://cm201u.org/FAQ.aspx?TID=42.”

Numerous Will County school districts have hired investigators to stem the influx of non-resident students they say drain district finances because they are not part of the tax-paying community.

Neither Peotone nor Beecher School District has hired residency investigators, but both districts are aware of the issue and keep a close watch.

Jeff McCartney, superintendent of schools for Beecher, said, “We currently do not allow ‘out-of-district students’ to attend. Therefore we do not have a tuition charge.

“We have had issues with parents trying to enroll out-of-district students, and our current board is contemplating using an investigative service in the future.”

McCartney provided a copy of the district’s residency policy, which makes allowances for military families, those who are moving out of the district during the academic year, and homeless students.

Peotone Schools Superintendent Steve Stein said, “We do not hire a private investigator, nor am I currently aware of any out-of-district students attending our schools.

“If we have a question about someone being a resident of the district, we simply call and discuss the situation.  If need be, we have people come in again to prove residency.

“It does not seem to be a big issue for us, but I have had to deal with this a handful of times since I came here.”

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