- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

Prince George’s County public school officials say they are considering a plan to imitate Montgomery County’s unprecedented residency check of eighth-graders.

“I think it’s absolutely the right way to go,” said Beatrice Tignor, chairwoman of the county’s board of education. “I think … Prince George’s County will now be stepping up their own enforcement. I don’t know how the board will vote, of course, but I support it.”

“I think it’s a good idea to check an entire grade level,” said board member Howard W. Stone Jr. “I would definitely support it.”

The Washington Times reported on Tuesday that Montgomery County officials plan to bar from high school as many as 20 percent — or 2,000 — of the county’s 11,000 eighth-graders whose parents failed to meet a deadline June 4 to prove their residency.

The residency check requires parents to submit documents such as lease agreements, property-tax records and utility bills, and aims to weed out border crossers who cost the county $10,000 per student in lost tuition, Montgomery officials said.

Prince George’s school officials said they learned of Montgomery County’s residency check from recent articles in The Times.

Ms. Tignor and Mr. Stone said they will recommend the idea to schools Chief Executive Officer Andre J. Hornsby, who was unavailable for comment.

Prince George’s officials said each illegally enrolled student costs the school system about $7,500 in lost tuition, but added that they do not know how many of their 135,000 students are illegally enrolled.

“Honestly, we have no way of knowing,” said Bill D. Greene, director of pupil accounting, school boundaries and student transfers. “We keep a residency file of students who have been withdrawn, but that’s the only file we keep. Enforcement is done by individual schools.”

Maryland school residency law requires parents to pay full tuition for their children to attend school in a different county. It also requires schools to verify students’ residency, but many parents beat the system by falsifying their addresses, officials said.

Earlier this month, Prince George’s enrollment officer Joyce Jones told The Times that a study conducted from 1997 to 1999 found that 60 percent of a sampling of students resided outside the county. A schools spokeswoman said last week that the sampling was targeted at suspected border crossers and does not necessarily represent the entire county.

“I don’t know how many border crossers there are, but we get a lot of reports,” Ms. Tignor said. “Sometimes children will tell other children, and parents will ask us, ‘Why is that child going to the county schools when we’re underfunded as it is?’ Other times, the children just tell their teachers, ‘I don’t live there.’”

Mr. Greene said the school system, which has a $1.3 billion budget, does not have the resources to hire residency specialists.

“We’ve considered a central office in the past, but we don’t think it’s worth it,” he said. “It’s just not practical. We’re not a large office. Our entire professional staff is six, and our clerical staff is five. Our resources are focused on increasing test scores in our system.”

Several Prince George’s County principals reported varying success in efforts to enforce residency requirements.

“If we suspect that a child is not living in our jurisdiction, we give the parents 30 days to provide further documentation,” said Sheila McConnell, principal of Arrowhead Elementary School in Upper Marlboro. “We try to be supportive, but the children are withdrawn if they are not living here. We do a pretty good job catching people.”

Mrs. McConnell said four illegally enrolled students will not be returning next year to Arrowhead, which enrolls 563 students.

Mimi Eschbacher, principal of Carole Highlands Elementary School in Takoma Park, said she occasionally catches children commuting from Montgomery County — but added that she thinks many children slip through the cracks. Her school enrolls about 600 students.

“I take it as a compliment to the school,” Mrs. Eschbacher said. “But although we do our best to catch people, we have no way of discovering anything if the children are quiet and well-behaved. Usually, we find out about it when the children say too much.”

State education officials said they can do nothing to help the counties catch border crossers.

“It’s the individual school districts’ responsibility,” said Ron Peiffer, deputy state superintendent for academic policy. “The local school systems have to make a careful accounting of the students enrolled so that we can apportion state aid properly. Our enrollment audit every year is based on the count they turn in to us.”

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