The Board set a tuition rate for the first time Monday that specifically targets students who are found to be ineligible to attend the district's schools because they do not meet residency requirements.
The decision did not come easily and was preceeded by many comments from the board members. Ultimately, the board approved the annual rate to be $13,030 in a 4-2 vote with board member Joan Dindoffer abstaining from the vote.
Leading up to Monday's decision is a group called when dozens of people spoke from the group demanding the board take action to increase enforcement and strengthen the district's policies regarding residency eligibility.
The group has since had at least two meetings with district officials, including Superintendent Tom Harwood and School Board President Judy Gafa, to discuss ways in which they believe the current policies and procedures could be bolstered.
Setting a penalty tuition was among the group's ideas.
The two dissenting board members, Lois Valente and Brendan Walsh, and abstaining board member Joan Dindoffer, individually described why they were against setting a specific amount. Valente and Dindoffer said they both had too many unanswered questions to feel comfortable about voting in favor of it.
Walsh took some issue with the wording and framing of the tuition amount and questioned the use of "penalty" tuition.
Many of the suggestions by the group have related to policies instituted by Birmingham Pulbic Schools to address the same issue--residency, illegal attendance of the schools and such.
Walsh said in Birmingham they use their tuition rate in a fashion that is like recruiting. "It's a $1.5 million business for them."
Deterrance is important, Walsh said, but rather than support a tuition amount that cannot be pursued directly by the district, he said he's in favor of trying to reach a perpetual reverification system.
The tuition may be sought by prosecutors either in the municipal courts in the Pointes or by the Wayne County Prosecutors Office through prosecution. Any amount that exceeds $3,000 must be handled through Wayne County as that is the maximum amount allowable to be handled in the Grosse Pointe municipal courts, school district attorney Mark McInerney said.
Before the public meeting, the board participated in a closed meeting to review the legal opinion McInerney about setting such a tuition rate, enforcement, prosecution and collection of the monies owed.
Valente and Walsh both noted they objected to the meeting being closed because the topic did not involve any particular student or employee of the district. Valente said she believes some of the discussion would have been beneficial for the public to hear.
Among the many questions listed off by board members relate to collections of the tuition after a student is found in violation and removed from the schools. Not only are some board members questioning the cost of such collection but also how the state's foundation allowance would be handled and whether the district would have to repay that amount to the state.
The amount of tuition to be collected would be pro-rated based on the amount of school attended illegally, McInerney said afterward.
So students who are found in violation for a month's time for example, would only be charged a portion of the annual rate. As long as the amount is $3,000 or less, such cases can be handled in the Grosse Pointe Municipal courts, he said, saying if the amount owed were slightly higher, the district could forego the extra dollars so as to keep it in the local courts.
Dindoffer said one of her concerns is that the district may never see any of the tuition from the student found to be ineligible but the district may still have to pay back the state.
The district has had a long-standing tuition rate that is set annually by the board for students who are considered exceptions under the state's residency requirements, such as seniors whose family moves at the end of the school year. That amount was approved in July, which is $13.50 per day or nearly $1,900 for a year.
Generally this particular situation only impacts about five families per year and the state outlines specifically who qualifies.
The difference between the two amounts is concerning to Valente, who said she believes the amount should be universal and the process non-discriminatory.
"It's really messy," Valente said. "I still have a lot of open-ended questions."
In addition to discussion about the tuition rate, the board discussed the administration's evolving residency confirmation process during registration for school. and ensure residency remains throughout the year.
Specifically targeted in the discussions were residents who have rented properties within the community for years but are on a month-to-month lease. They will now have to submit proof of residency monthly--a process Valente, who said she's been a rental property owner--questions and believes is of great inconvenience to those who have been in the community for years.
Some members of the Residents for Residency group voiced their disagreement loudly when any board member said something they did not believe to be correct or disagreed with. Some also addressed the board outlining similar requests as those who spoke in July.