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.