Deputy Superintendent of Business Affairs and Operations Chris Fenton has begun work to include some new steps in verifying and monitoring eligibility of students.
The efforts are the result of a meeting between district officials and a group calling itself that sprouted up quickly, mainly in Grosse Pointe Shores and into the bordering areas of Grosse Pointe Woods. The group gathered about 1,400 signatures from residents on two petitions seeking better verification of residency by the district.
Individuals from the group also spoke for a good portion of the school board meeting last month demanding changes and annual re-enrollment to ensure all students who are actually attending Grosse Pointe schools are residents.
Grosse Pointe Public School Board President Judy Gafa said Friday the group's efforts were not related to an influx of complaints or any particular event involving an ineligible student.
The goal of the meeting was to work together more positively, Gafa said. Residency is not just a concern to the group but also to school board members, who —a point some pointed out in response to the comments by the group, which accused school members of allowing ineligible students to enroll without fear of punishment.
Among the steps Fenton has taken since the meeting are:
- Letters were sent to 700 families to verify leases that may be expiring in the near future.
- A new landlord affidavit has been posted on the district's website that requires all members of the household to be listed, including all children.
- The district requested and received lists of rental properties from the five Pointes and Harper Woods city officials—a tool that will help officials verify addresses.
- Additional paperwork, including vehicle registration and insurance documentation with the address, are required for registration.
- Month-to-month lease agreements will be verified by the school administration monthly to ensure there is not movement shortly into the school year.
- Enrollment forms have been updated to include language that says any inaccurate or misleading information would merit fraudulent or perjury charges.
In addition to the above action, the school board will address a tuition penalty recommendation at its next board meeting Aug. 27, which would require students determined to be ineligible to pay $13,038.
Gafa said previously the board set an annual tuition rate that was used to incorporate students whose family is moving out of the district or into the district within a month of the end or beginning of the year.
The idea behind having this is to allow seniors to complete their senior year at their school and the parents pay the pro-rated amount after moving away, or those with children who are moving into the district but might not be occupying the house yet but will be shortly, Gafa said. It is not utilized much, she said.
"We wanted to strengthen the triggers," Gafa said, explaining the objective of looking at residency policies is to improve the process that "triggers investigations."
Residents for Residency have been supportive of the policies being used in Birmingham, Gafa said, noting Grosse Pointe district officials have been in contact with Birmingham officials to discover their best practices.
A press release by district spokeswoman Rebecca Fannon says district officials are also talking to Dearborn School officials to discover their best practices as well.
The district will continue requiring affidavits to be signed by residents along with notarized paperwork for enrollment. The school board's policy committee, chaired by Brendan Walsh, and the district's legal representation are reviewing current policies.
While a reverification process is not something that is feasible to do annually because of the cost—which Fenton estimated at the last board meeting to be about $80,000—Superintendent Tom Harwood in the press release said officials are attempting to develop a perpetual reverification process.
"We'll keep working on it," Gafa said. "We want to try to make it as strong as possible."