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Millburn / Short Hills — Letters to the Editor

Millburn Schools for Millburn Residents

Lise Chapman

Thursday, January 23, 2014 • 10:58pm

It is no accident that many New Jersey school districts, such as Kenilworth, Ridgewood and Tenafly, have used re-registration programs to eliminate nonresident students from their schools. Students attending schools outside of their home municipalities cost school districts millions of dollars and unfairly burden local taxpayers. Equally important, they take away resources and opportunities from in-town students.

Since September, residents have raised this issue repeatedly at Board of Education meetings, yet school administrators and BOE members have not addressed the issue publicly. At the December 16, 2013 meeting, I expressed my concerns and shared research to date showing how Greenwich public schools and 19 New Jersey public schools have initiated programs to re-registered students to address this problem. 

Currently, parents of Millburn students are asked to verify residency only once, when they enter our school for the first time, regardless of grade. No further proof of residency is required. Enforcement is ad hoc with school professionals investigating suspected violations on an individual basis.

Therefore, parents of a Kindergarten student can prove residency initially, then move out of town, and receive our 13-year education presently costing taxpayers $234,000 (today’s estimated cost of $18,000/year), unless caught by school officials. Or, parents of an incoming 9th grader, can prove residency by renting an apartment or house, then move out of town or even share addresses, and get a Millburn High School education costing taxpayers $72,000.

During almost seven years on the Millburn Board of Education, I do not recall any nonresident student case coming before the Board, until recently. According to the Board’s November 25, 2013 minutes and reported in the 1/16/14 The Item, three students were found “not domiciled in Millburn.” Now, will the Board seek back tuition, and for how many years, as may be assessed in Board Policy 5111 – Eligibility of Resident/Nonresident Students? Is this a coincidence that this happened only after public disclosure of this important issue?

The current policy with no re-registration and only ad-hoc investigations is flawed for three reasons. First, it is simply unfair since it singles out individual students on the basis of suspicion or tips. Second, it is ineffective because the fact that such investigations found students who should not be here proves that we have these students in our system. How many more are there? Nobody really knows. Third, at $18,000 spent per student per year by taxpayers, these numbers matter.

In 2011, Tenafly saved almost $2 million dollars in one year finding 142 nonresident students who later withdrew. Student enrollment numbers ARE the basis for Millburn’s proposed $82 million 2014-2015 school budget (initial draft presented 1/13/2014) and any referendum for expansion. Since there is no on-going residency verification process in place, neither the BOE nor Administration knows which students are legally domiciled here and which are not. K-12 student re-registration should be mandated for an annual budget and any proposed referendum.

Because the current practice is unfair and ineffective, I recently proposed a systematic K-12 re-registration process for all students. This would determine how many students actually are eligible to attend Millburn Schools. It would also deter families who plan to register their children without adequate proof of residency and be fair to all students.

Two school districts have spent from $8,000 to $25,000 to complete this process, well below the cost of educating 1-2 nonresident students annually. Since the Administration already has hired a District registrar and several security personnel, the staffing for a re-registration program is already in place. There are also online verification systems available for this purpose highlighted in the NJ School Board Association press sent monthly to all Board members.

While our Township officials annually require residents to re-register and prove residency every year to use our Town pool, I do not understand why our school officials do not do the same for all students to attend our schools.

We need to make certain that only Millburn residents are enrolled in Millburn schools. District-wide student residency verification should reduce our costs while freeing up school resources for Millburn’s children. Our Board of Education needs to act in a fiduciary manner and direct the Administration to immediately craft a cohesive plan for a District-wide re-registration program to meet the residency standards set by Millburn Board of Education policy and the laws of the State of New Jersey.

Lise Chapman

28 Northern Drive

Short Hills

Township resident since 1987 and past member of the Board of Education, 2007-2013.

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