Got ten minutes? Listen to Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Akron, OH, mom who was jailed for sending her daughters out of district because she wanted them to attend a crime-free school, and as a result has two felony counts of altering documents in order to allow them to attend a school in the Copley-Fairlawn district where her father lives, owns a home, and is a taxpayer. It’s a story of race, inequality, and real estate.
In the interview linked below, Williams-Bolar says her father had a “grandfather power-of-attorney” over his granddaughters. It was pending until denied by the court because her husband didn’t sign the document, and the court denied the “grandfather power-of-attorney” one week before school ended for her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn district.
Ms. Williams-Bolar has already served 9 days out of a 10 day jail sentence. A petition of 165,000 signatures has been delivered to the Governor of Ohio asking him to pardon her so she can remove the felonies from her record and continue in her career as a teacher. Governor Kasich has asked the parole board to review Ms. Williams-Bolar’s case.
Think it’s only one person who commits residency fraud to have his or her children attend a more desirable school? Take a look at these much less famous residents of suburban Ohio, the Ebner family, who leased an apartment just inside the desirable Bexley school district while husband Mark Ebner also owned a comfortable 8,750 square foot, $1 million home in a nearby town outside the school district. From the Columbus Dispatch:
Legally speaking, what makes someone a resident of a school district isn’t just that they have a lease and utility bills and a driver’s license within the district. Ebner has all of those things.
The crux of the case is whether most family activities take place there. Is it where the family eats, sleeps and spends the most time?
The investigator hired by the district watched the apartment and the house 14 times in April and May. His report to the district said he saw Ebner come or go on occasion but never Julian [the eldest child]. The investigator concluded that Ebner and his family spent most of their time at the house, not the apartment.
That parent, being white, male, and wealthy, didn’t spend any jail time but instead sued the Bexley school district which had hired a private investigator to have him tailed, much like Copley-Fairlawn had an investigator follow Ms. Williams-Bolar.
And the Ebners used the legal system to fight back, engaging in some complicated house-swapping and lease arrangements with relatives who live in the district to finally enable their two younger sons to attend Bexley District schools.
Where is the justice for Williams-Bolar, a divorced mom, woman of color, and person of much more modest means?
Other stories suggest that school residency fraud may be on the rise. See below. In which case, this is not an isolated case of one person who can’t seem to follow the rules or decides to treat school requirements like a scofflaw, this is a larger problem that reflects increasing desperation on the part of all parents to do what they can to make sure their children attend good schools.
Southtown Star: Schools Take On Residency Cheaters
Property taxes account for the biggest chunk of revenue in most districts, so there’s great disparity between districts in communities with high property values and low property values.
Some politicians, educators and parents have been advocating for change for years, but there’s been no overhaul.
“Changing how education is funded in Illinois would change this (residency problem) to some degree,” Howell said. “I think reliance on property tax creates different environments. Even a novice would see a great disparity, but I don’t know how they’ll equalize this system.”
Boston Globe: Residency Fraud at Top Schools Vexes City
There are those who falsely say their children are living with other family members in Boston, school officials say. Others secure a six-month lease on a Boston apartment but do not move in, simply using it to prove residency during the admission period for [prestigious public school Boston] Latin and the district’s other two exam schools. [–added by eds.]
So far this year, Boston public schools have revoked acceptance offers to four would-be exam school students for next fall because they do not live in the city, while another 31 are being investigated for possibly falsifying residency documents. Those students represent the vast majority of the 48 exam-school invitees who took the entrance test last fall as nonresidents and who later filed paperwork indicating they had moved to the city.
Next Wednesday, the City Council will take up a resolution urging the School Committee to tighten its residency requirements by allowing only those students who have lived in the city for at least a year to take the entrance exam.
ABCNews San Francisco: Parents Face Charges Due to Enrollment Fraud:
The number of fraud cases more than doubled in 2010 — from 30 to 80. Those parents have 30 days to pay fines ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. Otherwise they could face criminal perjury charges.
San Francisco’s prestigious Lowell High School is ranked among the top in the nation. There is stiff academic competition to get in, and the majority of students are accepted based on grades and test scores alone.
You have to live in San Francisco to apply. But the school district says this year, it turns out 30 Lowell students currently enrolled or who were accepted for the fall, don’t live here — their parents lied and submitted false proof of residency documents.
OC Register: School District Requires Proof of Residency:
Previously, parents were required to prove residency upon initially enrolling their child. Residency is proven through a photo I.D. and a utility bill, payroll stub or income tax documents.
Now, parents will also have to submit a residency verification affidavit each year, acknowledging that those who provide false information are subject to criminal prosecution for perjury and that the district has the right to conduct home visits and hire private investigators to verify that parents live within school district boundaries.
The heightened scrutiny of residency was prompted by the district’s upcoming switch to a Basic Aid funding model. In Basic Aid districts, local property tax revenue is relied upon to fund school needs because it exceeds what the district would receive from the state. The Laguna Beach and Newport-Mesa districts have long operated under this funding model.
Basic Aid districts receive a lump sum to fund school operations, rather than the state’s per-student funding. That’s why it’s essential for Irvine Unified to ensure that all children attending district schools actually reside in the area, said Eamon Kane, coordinator of student services for the district.
“We want to ensure the highest level of services possible for our families residing within district boundaries,” Kane said. He also emphasized that the district would be violating state law by taking per-student funding away from a neighboring district if a child is fraudulently enrolled in an Irvine school.
I’ve argued before, the solution is not to have school districts waste valuable resources policing their attendance boundaries, nor hire private investigators for skullduggery or get involved in lawsuits with litigious parents. No.
The solution is to make every existing school excellent and open to all. Stop heightening scarcity and unequal distribution of resources, and allowing racial and economic inequality to play out over real estate.
Making great public schools scarce is anti-democratic. It goes against what this great nation is about: America is about equality of opportunity, if not equality of circumstance. If we don’t address this issue, we’ll have invisible gated communities–minds and lives locked in according to the neighborhood where you live–and a quality education for just a few who can afford it. That’s not America…that’s how China works.