Grosse PointesAugust 1, 2012
Group wants district to tackle residency issue
By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer
GROSSE POINTES — The Grosse Pointers from a group called Residents for Residency say they want to see the number of students sneaking into the district at zero.
They want to work with the district to find solutions to what they consider an enforcement problem. A number of residents went to the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education meeting July 23 to voice their concerns.
District officials say they plan to take steps to alleviate those concerns and issued a letter following the meeting to district residents that praises them for their dedication to the district and the quality educational programming their support affords.
“As taxpayers of this school community, you have been extremely generous in your volunteerism, your financial support, and your commitment to the foundation and structure of the Grosse Pointe Public School System,” Superintendent Thomas Harwood stated in the letter.
He stated that the district “will be reviewing our residency verification process and the many changes and challenges to that structure that will provide a greater degree of assurance the students of the GPPSS are residents of this community.”
The letter reviews the demographic information for the district. It states that the school district includes the Grosse Pointes and part of Harper Woods, and the number of students whose families lease their homes in the district has grown from 8 percent to 20 percent in recent years.
It mentions the growing diversity of the district, with some homes that sell for more than $1 million and some for $20,000.
“As taxpayers in this GPPSS community, we understand and will listen to your concerns as we work through these difficult economic times,” Harwood stated in the letter. “We recognize the importance of our school system in the overall health of our community, and we are committed to a process of continuous improvement that will protect your investment and provide a bright future for our children.”
During the meeting July 23, concerned residents said that of the slightly more than 180 investigations into students, 42 were found to be in violation of the residency requirement.
District officials explained that they sometimes receive tips, mostly from such internal sources as teachers and counselors. Then they launch an investigation that includes phone calls and home visits.
The residents expressed frustration that there were any students outside of the five Grosse Pointes and the district’s portion of Harper Woods discovered to be attending school in the district.
“If the board was doing its job, the number would be zero instead of 42,” Kim Valice, of Grosse Pointe Shores, said at the meeting.
They asked for things like cross-checking for better residency information, and some mentioned that they want violators to pay the district restitution.
The residents claimed that people are using false lease documents and other forms to get into the district.
The residency group turned in two petitions on the issue, with well over 1,000 signatures between the two.
During his comments, Grosse Pointe Shores resident Bill Asimakis called the district one of the best in the state and probably the United States.
“The people that live here invest, not only their time and their money into the school system, but they take pride in the school system that they have,” he said. “For that reason, people who don’t live in the school system want to go to school in this district.
“It’s understandable that people want to come to this school district, but the people who come here who don’t belong here haven’t made that investment,” Asimakis said.
He said they are cheating and stealing from the taxpayers when they decide to come in the district illegally, which also sends a bad message to the students in the district.
Some residents threw out ideas like checking park passes.
“Whatever you’re doing just isn’t enough,” said Shores resident Thomas Lizza. “It’s a fairness issue. It’s a legal issue.”
The school board is a proponent of keeping the residency issue in-house; they have not adopted Schools of Choice like many other districts in the state.
Committee members asked for a meeting with district and board officials, something those district officials wanted to see happen, as well.
Board members thanked the residents who came forth, saying that they would be having that meeting and working on this issue.
“I am very optimistic at reviewing some of the proposals that were brought forward,” Board Trustee Tom Jakubiec said.
“We do care,” Board Treasurer Brendan Walsh said, adding that the board should review a legal opinion it received five or six years ago on the restitution issue. “We do. This is a matter of enforcement.”
While the school board was on board with looking at the residency issue, there is an even greater threat to residency matters in the state, according to Walsh.
“The word residency will be a thing of the past if (Gov.) Rick Snyder gets what he wants,” Walsh said, speaking about the governor’s desire to open up all district boundaries, with the funding following the student.
He asked residents to keep their eyes on that issue at the state level. It is an issue that could strip power from local control, he said.
“Bring that zeal and energy to advocacy on that issue at the state level,” Walsh said.
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