Saturday, January 26, 2008

D.C. school officials did not verify residency requirements for more than 200 students at schools and facilities receiving city funding during the past two years, violations that potentially cost the District nearly $3 million, according to a report by the D.C. inspector general.

The report found during a survey of seven D.C. public schools that officials did not have residency verification forms for 56 students — 43 of whom were enrolled at the schools at the time of the audit.

The inspector general also said that officials did not have residency verification forms or court orders for 166 students attending private or out-of-state facilities.

The District pays tuition for special-education students and foster students in the city’s care that need to attend facilities outside of the city.

“As a result, DCPS paid over $2.7 million for 166 potentially ineligible students to attend private and out-of-state public facilities and may be entitled to recover funds through tuition reimbursement requests,” the report states.

Verifying the residency of D.C. Public Schools students — an annual requirement under city law — has been problematic in the past.

The Washington Times reported in 2004 that school officials said at least 55 students from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties illegally enroll each year in city schools, and that they did not know how many city students cross borders into suburban schools.

The Times reported that the 55 illegal enrollments were costing the District an average of $7,000 per student in lost tuition.

The residency issue also has plagued suburban schools. Montgomery County officials in 2004 said as many as 2,000 eighth-graders would be barred from enrolling in the county’s high schools after their parents missed a deadline for proving their residency.

Prince George’s County officials said they also are wary of nonresidents attending county schools.

“Our principals of our schools that are close to the borders are very conscious … and frequently will request proof of residency,” said John White, a Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesman.

In the District, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education is responsible for establishing the rules and procedures for residency verification, while public school officials are responsible for enforcing the requirements.

The inspector general’s report covered the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years.

It based its findings in part on an enrollment audit conducted by Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, PC. The audit found 454 D.C. students and 253 students attending private and out-of-state facilities did not have the right documents in their files to prove their D.C. residency during the 2006-07 school year.

The report noted that the school system’s Student Residency Office has only one staff person to investigate complaints about nonresidents attending city schools. The system has about 49,000 students, and the office had opened 58 investigations during the 2006-07 school year through mid-March.

The report also says principals are accountable for “residency verification requirements,” but that school system guidelines do not specify who is responsible for removing illegally enrolled students from their schools.

For foster children attending facilities outside the District, schools officials say the Child and Family Services Agency has problems providing needed court orders to verify the children’s residency to the school system in a timely manner, according to the report.

The report says the school system’s computer database, called DCSTARS, did not contain entries for 151 students attending facilities out of state.

School officials agreed in their response to the report with recommendations by the inspector general to help fix the system.

The recommendations include adding staff for the Student Residency Office and working with the D.C. Council to amend city laws to specify that students attending out-of-state schools be required to prove their residency.

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