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Editorials

Our view: Data needed before detective hired

A proposal to have DeKalb School District 428 officials more closely scrutinize the residency of students is not racism – provided standards are applied equally.

People of all races choose to send their children to school districts where they do not live. Property owners pay thousands of dollars each year to support local schools, and they should not be expected to foot the bill to educate students from outside their district.

Some in DeKalb are pushing a plan for District 428 to hire a private detective agency to conduct independent residency verification of students. They estimate that 10 percent or more of the students in the district could be removed because they live in other school districts.

Negative reaction at a recent District 428 board meeting has shown this is a divisive issue. As board Vice President Fred Davis pointed out at that meeting, the district needs more information to decide whether the program is needed and how it could work.

At the moment, the district doesn’t have much data to support claims that so many of its about 6,500 students should be attending school elsewhere. School officials shouldn’t launch this kind of program without data that shows both need and potential savings for taxpayers.

Those who support tighter residency checks said it would follow a model used at some Chicago-area school districts, such as in the Naperville area. They said it is easy to game the district’s current system for checking residency, which requires two current items showing an in-district address.

The district’s operational costs are more than $13,000 a student each year, so supporters argue that by weeding out only100 children – about 1.5 percent of enrollment – the district could save more than $1 million. The cost-benefit formula is probably more complex. Most of the district’s expenses are employee salaries – would there be layoffs?

A common avenue for students from out-of-district to gain admission to schools is through an Affidavit of Enrollment and Residency. This is essentially a district resident attesting that children who are not theirs are living with them full time, with their parents consent, and not solely to access the local schools.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, District 428 officials said this week that they do not keep track of how many students have enrolled using these affidavits.

They do track the number of “homeless” students in the district, a number which has fluctuated over the past five years.

At the start of this school year, there were two homeless students, according to records provided by the district. That includes children who are living in a shelter or “doubled up” at the home of a relative. Last year, 56 students went through a period of homelessness, records show.

The district also tracks the number of students who transfer in from out-of-district each year; this year’s number is at a five-year high of 319, with the largest number of students – 91 – transferring into DeKalb High School.

Even if all of the transfers and homeless children are living outside the district, that still leaves more than 200 others to find to reach 10 percent of enrollment. Even if they were found, how would their removal affect the district’s budget?

An effort such as what is proposed should be based on empirical data, not anecdotal evidence. More study is needed at a minimum before any enhanced residency checks should be approved.

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