- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2012

The District is suing a Maryland woman and a city resident who works at a D.C. public charter school for $31,294 on claims they conspired to let an out-of-District student attend McKinley Technology High School in the city without paying tuition, the D.C. Office of the Attorney General said Thursday.

Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said Jacinta L. Mason of Hyattsville schemed with Darnetta Paige, a city resident, to get Ms. Mason’s daughter — who lived with her in Maryland — enrolled at the city school for four years. The lawsuit claims Ms. Paige certified that she was the legal guardian of Ms. Mason’s daughter so it would look as if the student lived in the District.

Mr. Nathan said his office is working with officials from the D.C. Public Schools and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to root out cases of residency fraud at city schools, a persistent problem that prompted legislation from the D.C. Council last year to crack down on violators.

“We’re enforcing the law,” said Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “We’ve made it clear in the past that we will not tolerate malfeasance and fraud.”

“Remember the unemployment fraudsters?” he added, referring to dozens of city employees who were terminated, sued or prosecuted earlier this year for collecting unemployment checks after finding jobs. “If you defraud the District, we will find you.”

The District is seeking the unpaid tuition from Ms. Mason and civil penalties under the False Claims Act against Ms. Paige for allegedly making false statements about the student’s place of residence, according to a news release from the attorney general.

The attorney general’s office said Ms. Paige is employed by a D.C. public charter school, but officials have not claimed her job was linked to the case.

The D.C. Council passed a bill in January to increase fines for violating D.C. school residency rules and to refer cases to the attorney general.

The bill also required the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to lead investigations into residency fraud.

Former council Chairman Kwame R. Brown touted the bill as an attempt to preserve resources intended for D.C. children. Students from surrounding jurisdictions are allowed to attend D.C. schools, but they must pay tuition of roughly $10,000 a year.

According to the superintendent’s office, a 2010-11 enrollment audit could not verify the residency of 201 public school students, or 0.4 percent of total enrollment. Schools were able to confirm residency for 126 of them. Another 74 were required to pay tuition or withdraw. Officials were unable to account for the remaining student in their calculations.

State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley Jones told a D.C. Council committee last year it costs roughly $8,900 to educate a student, meaning the 74 unverified students could have put taxpayers on the hook for almost $660,000.

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