Incidents of illegal out-of-town students on the rise
Having reached perhaps the oddest benchmark for determining the quality of a town's schools, Westport's class of rising high-school freshmen will have to re-register with the district this summer.
To weed out any non-residents who've weaseled their way into the school system.
"We've developed a reputation of excellence here," explained Superintendent of Schools Dr. Elliott Landon. "But people have to legitimately live in this town to come to school here. And it's becoming an increasing problem as people in neighboring communities think they'd rather send their children to study here."
How big of a problem?
Landon said the town has investigated "about a half dozen" cases this year at the elementary, middle and high school levels, in which non-Westport residing parents have fudged documents to gain their children spots in the town's schools.
Although Landon refused to go into detail about the cases, citing potential litigation, he said that in some cases the school has had to contract private investigators to gather evidence against a family. He classified some of the cases as "ugly" and said they're getting trickier. He added that some other towns in this county, facing similar problems, have retained full-time private investigators.
And so, incoming freshmen will have to be re-registered during the month of July in the Staples main office, Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to noon. They can also be re-registered at the school district headquarters, in the top floor of the town hall, at 110 Myrtle Ave.
Parents will need to show a valid photo-identification, such as a current driver's license, two utility bills -- such as a land-based telephone, electric or gas bill, but no cell phone bill -- and some mortgage, leasing or renting paperwork.
"And it's got to be a real home, not a storage room above some restaurant, which we've had before," Landon said.
There are valid ways for out-of-towners to send students to Westport schools, but they all require paying some tuition, the rates of which were determined at Monday night's Board of Education meeting. The tuition rates will increase 1.6-percent for the next fiscal year, matching the overall Board of Education budget increase.
The tuition rates for elementary students will be $14,056; for middle-school students it will be $19,683; and high school students will have to pay $21,080.
The children of Westport public school employees who reside outside of the district, for example, can attend school here for 25-percent of the tuition rate. Similarly, students who move out of Westport before April 1 are allowed to finish the school year here, but must pay 25-percent of the tuition for the months in which they're non-residents. And non-resident students who are living with residents must also pay 25-percent of the tuition rates.
In exceptional cases -- such as when a family expects to move to Westport and has children enrolled, but then doesn't move here -- families must pay the full tuition rates.
Families caught forging their way into the Westport school system must pay the full tuition for the months in which they attended schools here, Landon added.
Landon said that about 30 children of nonresident employees attended Westport schools this year. He expects the same number to do so in 2010-11. Between that and the money earned from forged students, the schools collected about $150,000, Landon said. The money went to town coffers, not to the school district.