Westport officials crack down on non-resident students
Updated 5:18 pm, Monday, August 22, 2011
It is no secret that Westport's public schools are considered to be among the best in the state. So good, in fact, that town school officials are re-doubling their efforts to ensure that out-of-towners attracted by the schools' top-grade reputation are filtered from the ranks of students enrolling for the new academic year.
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said last week that roughly 20 non-resident students yearly are identified when they are required to re-register for the transition from eighth grade into Staples High School. This summer was no different.
"We sent a message out to every eighth-grade family (via e-mail and standard mail) and as of this moment, there are 20 people who have not come forward, who have not been able to produce adequate documentation that they are residents, and so the children won't be allowed to attend classes" at Staples, Landon said.
In addition to those non-residents, Landon said there are also procedures in place to identify out-of-towners in the lower grades. While he was hesitant to provide details, he did say "we have a wonderful relationship with our Police Department, which always assists where necessary."
The residency checks are making it harder for parents of non-resident children to illegally enroll students in Westport schools, he said. When re-registering, for example, a parent must submit his or her driver's license, two utility bills and a mortgage document or rental lease to prove Westport residency. When a non-resident is discovered, action is taken to seek financial restitution "for the time that they were here," according to Landon.
In fact, a Norwalk couple currently awaiting sentencing for their alleged involvement in a mortgage scam has been slapped with a $14,000 fine by the Westport school district, according to Landon, after an investigation revealed the couple's 7-year-old daughter was attending school in town.
Landon said out-of-town parents of various income levels, not just those on the lower rung, have tried to improperly enroll their children in Westport schools.
"I sympathize with these people but we are bound by the law," said Landon. "The law is clear. Non-residents cannot attend school in a district in which they do not live."
For those families that might be able to afford to pay tuition to cover what it costs to educate a child in the Westport schools each year, writing a check is not an option for legal enrollment.
"We do not accept tuition students," the superintendent said.
If the district were not so vigilant about ferreting out illegally enrolled students, the out-of-towners would have a significant impact on "class size, the ability to teach, our ability to provide a quality education to our kids" and could result in "inadequate materials or equipment," according to Landon. "We have an obligation to our tax-paying residents to ensure that they're children are not being shortchanged."
Landon said are several reasons why Westport officials have stepped up efforts to identify non-resident school children, particularly the tough economy that has forced the school district to tighten its belt, and a growing enrollment, which puts pressure on class size.
"We owe it to our taxpayers to be more vigilant," he said.