The issues of residency verification and central registration were again topics of discussion at the two most recent Board of Education meetings. While there may not be specific budget impact, board member Steve Anderson noted that at the Dec. 8 meeting that central registration and residency verification was a “preventative method” of not spending money to be good stewards over the school district’s $139 million budget.
The issue, however, remains a highly contentious one with concerns over “profiling” of certain schools being countered with long-told but unverified stories of lines of kids crossing over on Bridge Street from Port Chester. Superintendent Roger Lulow characterized the issue late last month as one that has been persistently questioned. "From my perspective, I would say that this is an issue that was here 15 years ago and will be here forever unless the borders change," Lulow said.
The two topics, central registration and residency verification, are cited by Anderson as being morphed into each other whenever the issues are raised. According to the BoE website, “prior to registering a child in a Greenwich public school, parents are required to provide proof of residency in the Town of Greenwich."
As with other town services, proof includes photo identification and various means of evidencing residence such as utility bills or mortgage and rental statements. Beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, the registration process was moved out of the 15 individual schools and centralized at the Havemeyer Building. In addition, in the 2009-2010 school year, all students moving from the 8th grade to the 9th grade had to re-register at Havemeyer as an additional precaution against non-resident students attempting to attend the high school.
More recently, concerns were raised that the level of non-resident students at the elementary school level was the concern. As explained by Lisa Beth Savitz, PTA Council President, at the Dec. 8 meeting, "if you do choose to add another checkpoint year, we recommend a later elementary grade over the entrance into middle school, despite the symmetry of transition gateways. More of the complaints are coming to us at the primary level.”
In addition to the residency verification, Tom Bobkowski, director of the district's school safety services, also undertakes investigations based upon tips provided by concerned residents and parents. Since the 2001-2002 school year, the number of investigations varied from 14 to 81 a year, with most years seeing 40 to 60 investigations. As a result of the investigations, annually a range of 3 to 23 students would withdraw from the district.
At the August 2010 board meeting, it was explained that while all tips are investigated, due to confidentiality concerns the original person raising the concern usually will not be told of its outcome.
This also was seen as an issue of concern expressed by Savitz. "We contend that one reason for this conviction is a lack of communication in response to complaints, both general and specific. Perhaps the Director of School Safety Services could speak to those school communities where grievances are most persistent,"Savitz said. "We request that each particular report generate a response to the originator with its conclusion. Once it has been established that a family legitimately resides in Greenwich, be so kind as to confirm that for the neighbor who was in doubt. And let those concerned citizens know also when a wrong is righted and corrective action is taken. Often an individual unresolved case forms the basis of a belief in systemic abuse.”
The district also uses a technology called Verimove which looks to identify families which move out of the district from mailing address change requests. Currently, addresses are run through Verimove every two weeks. At the August 2010 meeting, John Curtin, the district's special project manager, stated that there was no discernable pattern in students withdrawing from the district stating it was spread across all schools and grade levels. Despite this, there are persistent concerns raised about schools in the western side of town.
More than a year later, the question is once again raised. At the Nov. 29 budget hearing, new board members Adriana Ospina and Barbara O’Neill recognized that the New Lebanon community has expressed concern over students attending Greenwich Public Schools who do not reside in Greenwich.
However, O’Neill questioned whether adding another checkpoint would solve the problem and believed that the possible issue was not just about New York license plates. During the public comment at the Dec. 1 meeting, Savitz echoed the license plate red flag in determining non-residents. “A New York license plate alone is not a reason for suspicion; such profiling is misleading and divisive,” Savitz said.
When asked if there is an issue at New Lebanon School, PTA Co-President Mike Bocchinno offered this response from the New Lebanon PTA Executive Board. “Unfortunately due to last year’s confirmed verification of a non-resident student attending New Lebanon Elementary School there is an issue.”
In response to questions on how to solve the issue, Bocchino said, “However, to successfully solve this problem it must be addressed throughout the district and not be viewed as an isolated incident or issue. There needs to be more focus on clear communication regarding what the verification process is and the extent to which this is an issue across Greenwich. There should be a yearly report on the verification process and its findings to the BoE as a public record. We are hopeful that the newly-elected and restructured board of education will aggressively work to improve upon, create and/or implement new guidelines and practices for residency verification throughout the district so that we can better serve our students.”
At the Dec. 8 meeting Chairman Leslie Moriarty pointed out that “I am not sure if the Board feels there is a tremendous problem, but it is part of the board’s responsibility to do what we can” but highlighting that the issue was more operational in nature than budgetary.
Moriarty echoed previous comments by Savitz who said that PTAC “are pleased you are listening to parents' concerns, but do you have facts to justify their fears? Speculation is irresponsible because it feeds the potentially erroneous idea that abuses are rampant. It would also be constructive to review statistics on the effectiveness of solutions employed currently.”
Lulow then closed the discussion by explaining that over the next few days they would have more information regarding the different systems used by the town such as beach cards and what the GPS could do. He suggested that the board wait until the residency report is produced in March/April to see what the data shows and then decide whether the district should add a grade and what grade would be best to add. He agreed that the issue was not about the budget process but it was important that the report should be presented so that they can decide what if anything should be done.