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Residency Enforcement to be Addressed by Grosse Pointe Public Schools

Grosse Pointe Public School Board president agrees to include group in strengthening the district's residency requirement for enrollment after they present two petitions and 21 people speak on topic Monday night.

Following a parade of residents--primarily from and --sharing their concerns with the Board Monday night about what they believe to be a lack of enforcement related to non-residency enrollment, Board President Judy Gafa agreed to set up a meeting.

The meeting will happen later this week or next week between district Superintendent Tom Harwood, Assistant Superintendent of Business Administration Chris Fenton and the group, naming themselves "Residents for Residency," which was represented by attorney Joseph Dillon.

The group submitted two different signature petitions Monday night, including one that calls for the annual residency check plus restitution by offenders and one that calls for mandatory notification by students to the district within 10 days of their address changing. The first petition had more than 1,000 signatures and the other had more than 400.

The topic of the petitions surfaced last week at the Grosse Pointe Shores council meeting, where resident Jan Pemberton requested the council members to support the initiative. She ultimately gained unanimous approval of a resolution by the council to support enforcement of the residency requirement of Grosse Pointe Public Schools. 

In all, 21 people addressed the board about residency. Some offering suggestions about ways to improve the regular registration process, some simply stating they believe if "the board were doing their job, there would be zero" non-residents attending Grosse Pointe Schools.

Some of the residents were more sympathetic to the board and recognized that the board members are not in favor of out of district residents attending the schools, but said stricter enforcement and stronger penalties are necessary.

According to information maintained on the district's website, 42 students were excluded from district attendance in the 2011/12 school year out of 183 investigations related to enrollment eligibility.

To offer clarification to the situation, Gafa asked Fenton to provide some detail to the audience, which contained many people who were there for the residency topic.

Fenton said the district has three employees who work on residency/enrollment issues, including himself. He also said that very few of the students they receive information about possibly not being a resident come from the municipalities and their employees not from parents.

In addition, the district is experiencing more families who lease than in the past, Fenton said, explaining that tracking down the information for those students is harder. He estimated the percent of students who live in a home that is being leased has grown from eight percent about five or six years ago to 20 percent currently.

The district went through a re-verification process five or six years ago, during which students were required to re-submit proof of residency during enrollment. The process cost the district about $85,000 to $90,000, Fenton said, explaining why re-verification cannot happen annually as the group wants.

One resident noted how the room was full of potential volunteers to help with such a process, but Fenton said that is part of what the district did last time and there were many fraudulent documents that were missed because experts were not evaluating them and looking for the telltale signs, he said.

The group's attorney, Joseph Dillon, presented the larger of the two petitions but when Patch approached him afterward, he was ushered away by his daughter Kim Valice, who is one of the residents spearheading the group.

Linda Kusch, who is also one of the group's organizers, said the efforts began within the last few weeks. Kusch said she believes talk amongst the parents is what spurred the campaign, noting that many of the parents got to talking at the pool about their children's experiences in the schools and how many students who don't live in the district attend.

While the concentration of speakers Monday night was from the Shores and nearby streets in the Woods, Kusch said the issue is much larger than the north end of the Pointes. Neither Kusch nor Valice had an idea of whether the signatures had many residents from other Pointes.

Grosse Pointe School Board members agreed that residency is an important issue. Trustee Brendan Walsh urged those who spoke to share their message in Lansing at the state level, noting changes to school funding being pursued by the governor that will essentially make all schools borderless.

Walsh also emphasized the fact that as one of about 10 districts in the state to have adamently pushed back on Schools of Choice, the board's clear decision there supports the idea of educating those students who reside in the district. He thanked those speakers who acknowledged that the board cares about the issue.

In a similar message, trustee Lois Valente urged the committee to contact the local city council members, explaining in order to confront the problem, the efforts need to be a collaborative one. City offices maintain ownership records of homes and therefore readily have access to documents that could help in proving or disproving residency claims, she said.

Bradley Coopersmith July 26, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Questions I have about school of choice: I have read that GPPSS spend more than the state allocated amount per pupil. Would students from outside the district that want to attend be required to pay the difference? Can we make them or deny them entry? Also, capacity issues? Can we log the amount of children within the Pointes and limit our classroom sizes and capacity to those figures only? We would be saying we cannot accept you because there is no more room. What about entry exams for non-residents? Is that allowable? There has to be ways to counter this. I refuse to believe we just have to "take it" and that there is nothing we can do. If this breaks down i believe it is simply due to a lack of planning or the school system afraid of being scrutinized for trying to keep people out.
Katie July 26, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Bradley Coopersmith, re: GPPSS spending more than the state allocated amount per pupil - that IS the major issue. Take a look at your itemized property tax bill. GP property owners have consistently voted to increase their property taxes to give more money to GPPSS so we can have the best schools, equipment, capital,etc. This is above (in addition to) what the state pays back to GP per pupil and ONLY GP property owners pay this additional tax for GP students. Therein lies the issue. If anyone were able to attend GP schools (non-residents) you and I and everyone who pays a property tax bill in GP are subsidizing the education of those that don't belong in the school system because they are not paying the additional amount.
Bradley Coopersmith July 26, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Katie, I understand that the problem lies in that we are paying more. I was responding to Chris K's comment regarding "The idea of a contingency plan is an interesting question. What sorts of contingencies do you (or others) believe the district should be prepared to address?" I was wondering if anyone could answer these questions or if they had been considered as a contingency plan: Would students from outside the district that want to attend be required to pay the difference? Can we make them or deny them entry? Also, capacity issues? Can we log the amount of children within the Pointes and limit our classroom sizes and capacity to those figures only? We would be saying we cannot accept you because there is no more room. What about entry exams for non-residents? Is that allowable? There has to be ways to counter this. I refuse to believe we just have to "take it" and that there is nothing we can do. If this breaks down i believe it is simply due to a lack of planning or the school system afraid of being scrutinized for trying to keep people out.
Katie July 26, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Bradley, oops. Really Sorry! and I completely agree with what you are saying.
Lois Valente July 26, 2012 at 07:35 PM
May I suggest you join the Facebook group, Michigan Citizens Against School of Choice. You will find many people discussing the past and current legislation and actions of Governor Snyder. Under the previous proposed legislation the answer to your questions were: can't require entry exams, has to be a lottery system, no extra tuition could be charged but yes, we could claim we were at capacity. That bill has been quashed and the Governor is trying a new approach by forming a state level committee to review the entire State Aid Act so everything is back on the table again. Join the group, it's facilitated by Kate Barr, who has been actively lobbying in Lansing for the past year on this issue.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods July 26, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Ms. Ramsey: I called her a paid flack for the GPS district, which she is. I called her out for saying she lives in Detroit when she doesn't. How about a school board non-resident policy critic's right to free speech? What was "defamatory, abusive, obscene, profane or offensive" about that? Flack? All of a sudden you get defensive because a constituent calls her out? Get a grip.
Judy Gafa July 26, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Bradley and Katie As the bill was written last year we would of been able to do exactly as you stated in your previous post. The district staffs to enrollment, we would of declared the district had no capacity and therefore not admit students. The millages that were voted on 3 years ago would be the "extra" money that is spent per pupil, those tax dollars stay here in Grosse Pointe and do not go to Lansing. Yes there was a discussion of could a non-resident student be charged the difference as a tuition. The Senate Ed Committee did not answer me when I brought this up. It is something the disricts legal council would have to look at. I would politely disagree about the distict being afraid of being scrutinized, as Grosse Pointe was very vocal about Mandated School of Choice and networked with many other disticts to prevent the Mandate. We also lost best money practices this year, because the Board and Administration refused to particpate in School of Choice.
MRSPirateLarz July 26, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Mr. Waldmeir, I don't think any one has an issue with you calling people out. In fact, I love the fact that you do call people out! I won't answer for Ms. Ramsey on was "defamatory, abusive, obscene, profane or offensive" however I would say, as I have been saying, that it is NOT the fact that you call people out, it is HOW you word your comments that unsettles people so. Your opinions and knowledge can be of great use, it is a shame that it is your wording that causes people to miss what you have to say. And seriously, GET A GRIP about internet privacy!
Chris K July 26, 2012 at 09:54 PM
These are all good and practical questions about the impact of dollars and cents on a school system that has been built by residents being wiling to provide extra tax dollars, most recently for massive building projects and improvements, but what will happen to our community values as more students who enter the system are renters and as observed above not necessarily invested in the community. What sorts of contingency plans need to be developed to preserve our community values that are also played out in our schools? If mandatory school of choice become a reality how do we express our identity as Grosse Pointers and ensure our children take away some of the community values that has made this community a strong and a desirable place to live and raise a family? Have those school administrators involved considered this aspect and if they should what values do we as Grosse Pointers identify as important that need to be considered and preserved for our school community?
Bob July 27, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Yes, but Rebecca, Harper Woods residents who attend our school, DO NOT PAY OUR TAXES!! Time to drop them!!
V. M. July 27, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Chris, Well said. I can't understand why the Board Office doesn't get it??? We understand our policy, we know Gov. Synder has another plan of attach on School of Choice. All we are asking as a community and as tax payers, and the concern for our children, it to start the process NOW!!!! Stop the excuses, and have a plan set and ready to go. More importantly, have plan B as well. The "VOICE" and concern of this community is so apparent, we are not going away!!!! , until we see some plans and solutions. Thank You.
Bob Carr July 27, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Forewarned is forearmed. Certainly it is not necessary to know the details of Gov. Snyder's plan before taking action, any more than it is necessary to know the date of an epidemic before preparing for the emergency. A proactive plan to combat "schools of choice" would include an early alliance of like-minded school districts and preemptive engagement with the Michigan legislature and the governor's office. My expectation is that the steps taken and the steps to be taken, would be communicated or communicable by the School Board. Perhaps this has already taken place. If not, it is certainly anything but premature to communicate it again and now.
RB July 28, 2012 at 11:52 PM
It seems to me that we are skirting the real issue that precipitated our focus on non-resident students. We have all heard the stories of the outrageous behaviour by these alleged interlopers. We have seen the video on our children's phones, etc., while teachers stand in fear. The fact of the matter is, why are we allowing it to go on. If we are disciplining ALL children who display uncivilized, obscene and violent behaviour, then we are not racist. If we are afraid to uphold the standards of conduct. Shame on us. If we are truly concerned about the schools, let's start knuckling down on the offenders, regardless of race or residency. I wouldn't want my child to be subjected to an atmosphere of barbarism whether the culprit was white or green.
Chris K July 30, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Letter from the Superintendent on Residency Questions http://gpschools.schoolwires.net/gpschools/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=353412
Lisa Pinkos Howle July 30, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Okay- I'm just going to throw this out there: In addition to all the good ideas posted here, what about implementing a dress code? Nothing too stringent but I can't imagine it wouldn't help. This has been brought up to previous boards before and I'm not sure why it was not considered- but it wasn't. I would love to know what others think of this idea. Thank you.
Katie July 30, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I should know this but I don't. Do Harper Woods homeowners/property owners pay the incremental (additional) GPPSS taxes?
Hunter Douglas July 30, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Yes, they do.
V. M. July 30, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Lisa, What dress code???????? Do we have one??????? You need an administration that is going to ENFORCE THE RULES!!!!! We have been complaining, again, for years, about how the students come dressed for school. They want to make it a issue of being able to express their culture. What culture has their pants hanging off their bottoms???? Look, rich, middle class, or poor, has nothing to do with coming to school dressed properly and looking somewhat polished! Another issue, just like residency, that does not get addressed!!! Thanks Lisa for all your hard work and concern!!!
V. M. July 30, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Katie, Good question! I think Harper Woods residents pay their tax to H.W. However, we get the money for the student(s) who attend G.P. Schools. Does anyone know differently?? Thanks
Rebecca Fannon, GPPSS Community Relations July 31, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Mr. Fenton has asked the staff member that coordinates the schedule to see if there is a time in the afternoon where we could add another adult swim to compliment those already provided early morning and evening. Please remember that first priority for scheduling the school pools goes to student activities, but we are trying to accomodate your very reasonable request. Thank you!
Rebecca Fannon, GPPSS Community Relations July 31, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Yes. The portion of Harper Woods that goes to GPPSS pays our hold harmless, sinking fund and debt taxes, as they are a part of our district. They also pay taxes for Grosse Pointe library AND for the Harper Woods library. Also remember that when our families purchased their homes in that section of Harper Woods, they did so with the understanding they would attend GPPSS.
Rebecca Fannon, GPPSS Community Relations July 31, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Our schools do have a dress code. Please check the school's handbook or website for specifics as there are slight variations by school. For example, here is a summary of one of our middle school's dress codes: http://gpschools.schoolwires.net/177020117124431103/site/default.asp Here is a link to the elementary handbook -- see page 9 for dress code http://gpschools.schoolwires.net/17671031694533317/lib/17671031694533317/elementary%20handbook%202011-12.pdf
Katie August 01, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Rebecca, Thank you for the follow-up on pool scheduling...Hopefully it will be in the very very late afternoon as a many of us don't get out of the office until 5pm. At any rate the effort is appreciated and if it doesn't work out for me, perhaps it will be beneficial for some of the seniors in the community or those who do not work. Thank you. Kate.
David Chaklos August 02, 2012 at 07:42 PM
I currently reside in GPW, your example is indicative of what has been allow to occur in our community for a while now. The "cheaters" know ways and methods of beating the system, to them its simply getting even with the man. School districts reflect the values of those that live within them. When these values are compromised, we all lose.
David Chaklos August 02, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Patsy, Your example is indicative of what is really occuring in our community. The GPSS is virtually under attack each school year by the "cheaters" who know or have learned ways and methods of beating the system, at our expense. As more and more "cheaters" enter our schools, the message we send out is that its "OK" to do so. School districts reflect the values of those who live within them. When we compromise our values, we all lose. I too would gladly volunteer my time to help solve this issue.
Bill G August 02, 2012 at 08:30 PM
The problem is a lot of people go and post things in public forums without doing any fact checking themselves. The People that live in Harper Woods do pay GP school taxes and Harper Woods school taxes. They pay more in taxes then most Grosse pointers that live west of mack. The other problem with getting rid of Harper Woods is we would lose 8,000 per student the state gives. So either cuts would have to me made to schools if not the closing of at least one school.
Katherine August 24, 2012 at 02:00 AM
42 students out of 247 audited is 17%, not 1%.
peter August 24, 2012 at 02:37 AM
As school board members both Tom and Cindy have been responsive an very helpful to me.
Momofthree August 29, 2012 at 01:21 PM
I would love to see a stricter dress code at the middle and high school levels! My kids aren't there yet, but some of the "outfits" I see crossing the street for Parcells and coming home from North are absolutely ridiculous! I often wonder while waiting at the traffic light "Gee, did your mom see you before you left this morning?", or "They're going to let you in the door with that on?"
Mrs. Denson October 26, 2012 at 09:10 PM
After reading all of the comments my question is why can't a family from Detroit pay the difference? You have alot of families who reside in Detroit who wants the best education for their child or children. Are they wrong for feeling like their kids deserve a shot at a better education?

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