By: Ken Willette – February, 2010
The Methuen School Committee votes every year at a public meeting against offering a school choice program within the district. Therefore, it is critically important to review and strengthen the current district policy relative to investigating, identifying and removing any out-of-district student not presently authorized to attend our public schools. It is also practical and cost-effective to seek out tuition reimbursement from those families that are directly and legally responsible for sending their out-of-district students to our schools in the first place.
This policy mandates that every family or individual that is sending a student to the Methuen Public Schools must provide proof-of-residency documentation to their school site administrative office by September 1st of each new school year. The current list of acceptable documentation that families of new student enrollees are required to provide will also serve as the necessary documentation for all remaining students attending our public schools. In order to save costs for both the district and the families and individuals sending students, the Superintendent shall develop a method to allow families and individuals to return residency documents along with other information normally required every summer before a new school year begins.
The Superintendent shall send out a timely notice every summer warning parents and guardians relative to the residency enforcement policy. The notice shall provide a brief summary of the goals of the policy; enclose a list of acceptable and mandatory proof-of-residency documents; highlight a deadline of September 1st every year for the submission of acceptable copies of documents to the school site administrative office where a student is assigned; and give prominent publication to the legal and financial penalties associated with violations of the policy, including the issuance of tuition billing statements and the exact dollar amount for a full school year of tuition. The acceptable documents shall reflect a recent three-month window of time to ensure that submitted documents are relevant, accurate and valid.
Each school’s administrative office shall receive, review and maintain proof-of-residency records for every assigned student. Any family failing to provide the acceptable and authorized documentation by September 1st shall be reported to the Superintendent for follow-up investigations. The Superintendent shall send out written warning letters to these families, informing them of the requirements of the residency enforcement policy to submit proof-of-residency documents or else be obligated to pay full tuition billing statements. Parents and guardians shall have the right to appeal the warning letters and the submission of full tuition billing statements to the Superintendent, but only insofar as to confirm proof-of-residency. In the event that parents and guardians acknowledge that their student is attending the school system as an out-of-district student, they will be given one business week to remove that student from the school system or automatically be responsible for paying the tuition bill for the full school year. The Superintendent shall provide an annual written report to the School Committee at the first meeting of September that provides a total number of students for which families failed to provide sufficient documentation, and gives an overview of his/her efforts to send out warning letters and tuition billing statements.
The Superintendent shall also establish a hotline for the purposes of allowing for confidential calls regarding out-of- district students not currently authorized to attend our public schools. This hotline shall be advertised on the school district channel and website, and shall be included in the Superintendent’s summer notice to parents and guardians. The Superintendent shall provide a monthly report to the School Committee based on the following tracking information:
1) How many calls were made to the hotline providing concrete and verifiable information (vehicle identification, specific bus stop, etc?)
2) How many calls with concrete and verifiable information were investigated by the Superintendent or his/her designated party?
3) Based on the results of the investigation, how many students were found to be in violation of the residency rules?
4) If an investigated case is found not to be in violation of the residency rules, the Superintendent or his/her designated representative shall provide a written summary of how the investigation was conducted without identifying the complainant or compromising the privacy of any party being investigated.
Upon final approval of the residency enforcement policy, the Superintendent shall take every reasonable step to promote the policy language and goals via the school district channel and website, through notices and flyers sent homes to parents and guardians, through outreach to PTOs and other school based organizations, and through official press releases to area media outlets.
The main goal of the residency enforcement policy is to ensure that every parent, guardian and student is abiding by the School Committee’s vote not to participate in school choice within the district. A direct and positive result of this residency enforcement policy may be an overall cost-savings to the district and a subsequent reduction in class sizes, which should be encouraged and welcomed by all staff, faculty, parents, guardians and Methuen taxpayers.