HINSDALE – The District 86 Board of education recently approved the hire of VerifyResidence.com to complete an annual residence database audit review and report that will help flag out-of-district students
This past school year, 17 students allegedly frauded the district out of more than $275,000 in tuition by falsifying or not providing in-district residencies. With a 4-3 approval vote at Monday's board of education meeting, school officials hope to usher in a new era of more stringent residency checks.
"Hopefully everybody here realizes residency checking and reporting have not been done in a state of the art way in the past," School Board President Richard Skoda said. “It wasn’t happening consistently, or it was happening infrequently.”
In the past, the district had verified the residency of freshmen and transfer students only when registering for Hinsdale Central or Hinsdale South in the summer. Each building used its own forms and procedures, so there was no district oversight, according to Skoda.
This year, both district high schools will be using the same verification process, which requires homeowners to show utility bills and renters to provide a signed lease. Skoda said part of the process will also be to make sure the people living in an apartment are the ones signing up at that address.
Skoda noted that while registering from out of district is fraud, the cost is the education of district children.
“Educating [out-of-district] kids takes money away from the kids whose parents are paying taxes for their kids to be there,” he explained.
VerifyResidence.com, a Freehold, N.J. company, was the low bidder and will complete residency checks at a cost of $2 per student.
Skoda said the company will database names and then run students' information through their system.
“It will spit out names that don’t seem to belong,” he said.
He also pointed out that District 86 isn't the only place where fraud is occurring.
At a recent school board meeting, assistant superintendent for academics Pam Bylsma, who used to be a principal at Riverside Brookfield, and Hinsdale South High School principal Stephanie Palmer, who used to be a principal in Oak Park, said that in both there former districts there were instances of students from out of district trying to get into their schools.
Last school year, District 86 hired firms American Heritages and National Investigations to investigate and to determine which students reside outside district boundaries, but were not paying out of district tuition, which costs $90 per day.
To verify the residency of students, the district and the hired firms compared electric bills and property tax bills to the student information in the district database. Following the verification process, the district requested documentation from 107 unverified students.
Around that time, three students withdrew from school and one dropped out but district officials would not speculate if this was a result of residency checks.
After reviewing the documentation, letters were mailed requesting tuition reimbursement for 17 students, totaling more than $275,000.
Another 26 students were also unverified, but the district's law firm advised against further investigation because the students in question were graduating seniors and would not be attending a district school in the fall.