Oak Park-River Forest High School will step up residency checks
School board vice president John Phelan said enforcing the District 200 residency requirement had become less of a priority in recent years. | File photo
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:37AM
OAK PARK — The Oak Park-River Forest High School board is stepping up its efforts to make sure that students who attend the school actually live in the district.
The District 200 school board approved a two-year contract with an Oak Brook firm last month to help confirm the residency of students.
Under terms of the contract, which started Nov. 1 and runs through June 30, 2014, R.E. Walsh Residency Services will review public records, conduct surveillance, and make residential home visits or interviews of individuals applying for enrollment at Oak Park River Forest High School. They will be paid $85 per hour for the work.
In a June 2012 memo, OPRF Principal Nate Rouse noted that the high school has been taking steps toward a comprehensive annual residency confirmation process.
“Next year, we are transitioning the management and supervision of our Residency Procedures to the Business Office for greater efficiency with the intent of pursuing annual residency compliance procedures for all students in the 2013-14 school year,” Rouse said.
The high school employs four people in its in-house residency effort, including two investigators known as residence compliance officers.
At present, only incoming freshmen and transfer students are required to prove residency, Rouse noted, though students who live in apartments may also be required to do so.
D200 board vice president John Phelan said residency enforcement had become less of a priority in recent years.
“The policy in place wasn’t being enforced by prior administrations,” Phelan said. “So we made a renewed effort to enforce the policy that’s in place.”
In the 2011-12 school year, D200 investigated 314 residency cases. Of those, 229 cases were cleared.
Rouse’s report stated that OPRF officials had rejected a total of 76 enrollments. Of those, 62 were rejected after investigations by the compliance officers. The registrar’s office rejected the other 14 applicants.
So far in the 2012-2013 school year, 158 enrollments have been “tagged” for reasons including students moving out of town, expired leases and parents not providing updated information.
Cheryl L. Witham, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the contracted services are intended to supplement, not replace, the work of the residency staff.
In a Dec. 20 memo, she explained the residency officers needed the extra help to research and investigate about 500 cases before the start of the school year.
“Using outside services to supplement our daily operations allows the district to deploy greater numbers of people in busy periods and fewer people in slow periods,” Witham wrote.
Phelan underscored Witham’s contention, saying, “Because we’re stepping up our enforcement, we need resources to help them.”
Illegal enrollments can quickly become a serious drain on school resources. Tuition costs per student are about $9,200 per semester, and state law allows the district to recover 110 percent of that amount from parents or guardians found to have enrolled a student illegally.
Phelan said the point of the compliance officer investigations is not solely to recover tuition from out-of-district students.
“On a case-by-case basis, it’s hard to argue we’re saving money,” he said, saying a $9,200 loss won’t effect teacher staffing or class size. “But it there’s a large non-residency problem, we may be able to do without one teacher, or at least reduce class sizes in (some instances).”
He said the board’s action at the Dec. 20 meeting was as much related to deterrence as it is to any cost recovery.
“We do need people to understand that if you do try to do this, you could wind up with a significant penalty under state law. Fewer people will try it if they realize they’ll get caught and pay a really heavy penalty.”
D200 filed two lawsuits filed in 2009, both of which were settled in the school’s favor, one for $31,277 and the other for $9,258. However, neither judgment has been collected from the defendants.
In June, the district sued Maurice Shaw and Terri Shaw Carter in Cook County Circuit Court, saying they and their two children were legally residing in Austin rather than a condo unit they own near the high school. That suit, which the couple disputes, demands $30,863 in restitution of tuition for a daughter and son who attended OPRF during the 2009-10 school year.
The son graduated following that year, but was not allowed to graduate with his class, and the school has refused to release his academic transcript until the matter is resolved.
In October 2011, a judge found for OPRF and ruled Carter had defaulted. Lawyers for the high school are currently working to discover Carter’s financial assets.
The next court date in that case is today, Jan. 3.