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Grosse Pointe School Board Rejects Residency Verification Proposal

Grosse Pointe Public School Board considered a proposal that would have required all 8,500-plus students provide notarized proof of residency this November and December at special meeting Monday

 

The Grosse Pointe School Board has voted down a proposal for a mandatory, districtwide residency verification during a special meeting on Monday.

The Board listened to many residents who characterized the proposal as ridiculous, a witch hunt, an unfair attack on innocent children, a lawsuit waiting to happen and a waste of tax dollars and administrators' time.

The decision came after much argument and confusion during the nearly two-hour meeting Monday that was called by trustees Cindy Pangborn and Tom Jukubiec.  The two trustees wrote the proposal that called for every Grosse Pointe Public School student to provide notarized proof of residency between Nov. 9 and Dec. 4 or face penalties.

The issue of how to enforce residency in Grosse Pointe Public School re-surfaced in July after a group, Residents for Residency, formed and demanded the district do more to keep non-residents out of Grosse Pointe Schools.

After many weeks of arguing the years-old process and convincing the board and administrators to add new aspects such as requiring tuition reimbursement from residency violators and expanding the requirements for providing residency to more students, the group still asked for tougher enforcement.

Pangborn, a supporter of the group, worked with Jakubiec to write the resolution that was released to the public Friday, but was changed Sunday to eliminate a portion that called for the removal of violators from school and school events by Jan. 18.

At the beginning of the meeting, Pangborn tried to withdraw the proposal from being voted on, saying she meant it to be discussed not voted on, but the board voted down her request. She and Jakubiec also spent time arguing whether the meeting they called was wrongly labeled special or emergency.

The about-face perplexed fellow board members and residents attending the meeting, and created tension as Pangborn and Jakubiec said their proposal was no different than district procedures already on the books -- something superintendent Tom Harwood and board members said was untrue.

Jakubiec and Pangborn said the "across the board" approach is fair, removes the presumption of guilt on certain residents, mainly renters, and protects the district and students.

Superintendent Tom Harwood said during Monday's meeting that the administration saw the proposal as too cumbersome for several reasons, but especially the provision that called for verification of all 8,500 or so students' residency in December and January, much of that time being the winter break.

Even if that could be done with the staff in place, Harwood said, there would likely be many families who do not reply, even if they are legitimate residents. Some residents attending Monday's meeting said that they would not provide the form if asked.

Even with a "95 percent return rate, which is high, we would still be investigating 400 students," Harwood said.

Residents Speak For and Against Proposal

The board exchanges were tense and hard to follow as trustees made conflicting claims and frustrated residents in the audience, 11 of whom shared their opinions on the proposal and residency enforcement with the board.

Nine of the speakers from the audience were opposed to Pangborn and Jakubiec's proposal.  Some speakers had never attended a board meeting but felt so strongly about the issue they were compelled to speak up.

One Grosse Pointe native shared her story of being targeted, suspected and whispered about at Kerby Elementary when she moved back to Grosse Pointe Woods with her son about 13 years ago to live with her father,"to help him, to help ourselves." She now owns her own home. 

Isabel Mason, a Woods resident, asked Pangborn to put herself in the place of students and families who are being followed to and from school during investigations into their residency.

"As I'm sitting here listening to everybody and obviously there's very strong convictions on both sides…Nobody has really talked about how the kids are affected," Mason said. "Cindy Pangborn, think about pulling out of your parking lot, or wherever you live or work…and being followed. There have been students followed….to check residency…That is completely inappropriate and uncalled for, but this is what we're doing.

"Are you willing to put your name and our school system at risk for a lawsuit?"

"Following a child home from school to see where they live…That sickens me as a mom and as a human being…While you're up there amending your paperwork for Residents for Residency or whether you're running for re-election or what…I want you to go home and think about that," Mason concluded.

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Kathy Abke urged the district to put the issue to rest and to get back to focusing on improving education for students. Abke asked the board to consider the risk of lawsuits that could result from a policy that goes against the legal mandate that a public education be provided to all children.

"I know this board has always been serious about enforcing the residency policy," Abke said. "The existing system was strengthened in August…after a loud and angry crowd demanded it be addressed. Now this loud, angry crowd wants even more."

Abke referred to a special needs student was kept out of school for almost three weeks this school year while residency was verified, something a member of Residents for Residency claimed was not true. Board members and others confirm it did happen.

"If a child is kept out of school, even one child, I think we have failed," she said. "I'm not a part of that loud angry crowd that believes the problem is widespread," she said, mentioning district figures that show about 1 percent of children have been found to be in violation and asked to leave.

"It's time to get back to the business of educating kids and I have faith you're going to do the right thing," Abke said.

Farms resident Pete Spencer also asked that the district waste no more time.

"We could go to the nth degree but the nth degree is going to take an immense amount of time and resources," he said. "If we're finding approximately 50 give or take each year and those are discovered and kept out…I think overall things are going fairly well in the district. There are good things, exciting things you guys as a board could be working on. We don't audit every tax return…We don’t put a cop on every corner…It's time to go on and get back to educating students.”

Two residents who spoke in favor, Thomas Lizza and Diana Karabetsos, are a part of the group, Residents for Residency. Lizza has said beefing up enforcement is a simple matter of right and wrong and a districtwide verification is the only fair way to protect Grosse Pointe schools from educating students who don't belong.

Karabetsos, who ran for school board in the last election, says there are better ways to enforce residency. She spoke about knowing personally of homes where students claim to live but don't.

"This is a closed district….We spend $93,000 a year paying someone to verify residency and it's not working," she told the board and audience. "I know there are people in this district who do not live in those homes. It's not a witch hunt..We only want to do what other closed districts do. I don't know what else to say…I think tonight's a sham, really," she said.

Board Trustees Weigh In and Vote No

Board President Judy Gafa, who is up for re-election as is Pangborn, addressed Karabetsos' comments and the residency proposal at the end of the meeting.

"I don't think it's going to do anything...Checking housing and rentals….I find that disturbing. When we start having citizens checking other citizens homes to make sure they live there, don't live there…when we have someone employed to do that…where are going as a community?" Gafa said.

Trustee Brendan Walsh was frustrated by Pangborn and Jakubiec's attempts to backpedal on the proposal by changing it and claiming it was nothing new.

"When they saw such a strong negative reaction to it after having dipped their toes in murky political waters… they quickly amended it and came back," Walsh said. "That's why everyone is confused…I'm moving from confused to disturbed."

Walsh said district staff and the community were wronged by having limited resources spent on legal advice for the proposal, which after being changed "really amounts to nothing."

Jakubiec said published stories about their proposal were inaccurate and misleading, but district officials said the stories, including one on Patch last week, were accurate.

In the end, the board rejected the proposal by 5-2, with Pangborn and Jakubiec dissenting, and the audience responded with applause.

MRSPirateLarz October 23, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Popeye, if you are so concerned about it then why have you not taken your concerns to the district? Your "evidence" that these kids are really out of district? (you do know that just because a kid lives in another city does not mean they are out of district?)
Diane Smith October 23, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Mr. Walsh: If our school board members can't agree on items, how do you expect the community to agree? It sounds like there is just as much tension between school board members as there is between community members (& forum posters). I might suggest you strive for harmony in your small board group before you expect it from the community. I might also suggest you consider refraining from posting on a forum ( the same goes for Mrs. Gafa) even though I realize you feel the need to defend yourself and school district. Use the more "official" methods e-mail, telephone, and board meetings. You can NEVER win on a forum, even with the best intentions. In other words, serve the community at large, not the forum posters with the largest mouth. Personally, I have no problem with annual enrollment verifications, but a parent affidavit, is a joke. If you are "cheating", you have already lied on other more important documents.
Brendan Walsh October 23, 2012 at 11:19 AM
Diane Smith, I'm not trying to "win" on forums or anywhere else. I am engaging in community dialog no different from you. I think it's a healthy exchange of ideas that also provides an opportunity to address concerns. I appreciate the advice, but I expect to continue to remain engaged. I wouldn't confuse debate with disharmony, be it in these forums or among Board members. Healthy debate surfaces ideas and clarifies vision and intent. As the saw goes, if all Board members agreed on everything, why have seven of them? I enjoy healthy debates and enjoy engaging in this dialog on these forums. Brendan Walsh
Kathy Abke October 23, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Popeye, You jump to the wrong conclusion - again. I do not think "the kids are lying." I think the kids are wrong. Perhaps they don't have all the information; perhaps they simply assume. The rate at which you consistently - and with stunning inaccuracy - jump to the wrong conclusions about what I think makes my point exactly. A child does not have to live in the district to be eligible to attend. Dropping someone off at a home outside the district is not evidence of cheating the system. The fact is: you don't know - you just think you do. Same with the students. Chris Ann bravely told her story about being followed and bullied. Hers is just one example of this urban legend in the making. Yes, some people cheat. It's not ok. The district investigates. Cheaters get caught. If you suspect someone of cheating, call the tip line. The district cannot divulge the results of their investigation. From here you can jump to conclusions (It wasn't investigated! It wasn't investigated properly! People are getting away with it! We know because we know!) I'm not writing this to convince you. You're going to believe what you will. I ask you to stop jumping to conclusions about what I think. Your track record isn't that great at it.
Travis October 24, 2012 at 11:27 AM
It is clear that people like Kathy and Suzy assume, without directly saying it, that most of those who disagree with this proposal being rejected might be racist or just misinformed. They are also scared of the perception of what our city will portray to the outside communities if we continue to press the envelope. My response, you are the ignorant ones. I am so sick of everyone worrying about offending someone all the time. We have built a soceity of enablers because of the chance that we might offend somebody and there are many who use this fairly new rule in soceity to their advantage. Our response to that, turn away and pretend it is not happening because we are to lazy to verify our residence with the school each year or it might cost more money. I understand some parents, who are sending their kids illegally, want a better life for their kids. However, you are telling me it is ok to let them do it for free because we might be perceived as racist or heartless. As a child, I grew up in a poor school district and a single parent home. My mother didn't manipulate a good school district's rules to her advantage. No, instead she worked her tail off and went without some necessities for herself to send me to a private school. She understood the value of a good education, but also understood the value of laws. The first foundation we teach our children is right from wrong, not abc's and 123's. Seems to me you are crushing the foundation to supplement an education.

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