Hinsdale District 86 to hire firm to verify student addresses

Prior to registering students for the upcoming school year, Hinsdale High School District 86 officials want to hire a firm to run a check on the students’ addresses to identify those who may not live within district boundaries.

District 86 Superintendent Bruce Law recommends hiring VerifyResidence.com of Freehold, N.J., to complete a residence database audit and report, at a cost of $2 per student.

The district has spent $26,778 on lawyers and two investigative firms, American Heritage and National Investigations, to check the residency of the students enrolled last school year.

That work resulted in 17 cases the district is investigating. The staff is scheduling residency hearings for each of those cases.

But Law said the report the district received from National Investigations “was not of the quality we thought it should be.”

For the new school year, Law wants to use a different firm, Verify Residence, which he identified as the lowest responsible bidder of three firms that submitted proposals.

Law said he had not checked the firm’s performance with any local school districts.

Board member Jennifer Planson suggested the work Verify Residence proposed was redundant, considering the checking American Heritage and National Investigations already had done.

“Is there a process in house we can do?” Planson asked.

District employees, including principals, assistant principals and registrars, are being trained to identify which documents are acceptable as proof of residency.

“We are working very hard to have an in-house process,” Law said. “[But] what we cannot do is check an address against known databases,” the way the licensed investigative firms can.

Verify Residence said it would compare student addresses with more than 100 aggregated consumer databases, such as property tax and utility bill payments.

The students for whose addresses no match can be found would be flagged for further investigation, Law said. If those families come in to register, the employees handling registration would refer them to an administrator, he said.

However, getting a list of questionable addresses is just the beginning of the process, Law said. To deny a student admission requires evidence that would stand up in a hearing.

Pam Byslma, who was hired as District 86’s assistant superintendent for instruction this year, said verifying students’ residency was “common” at Riverside-Brookfield High School where she was principal for the past four years.

Law could have hired Verify Residence without consulting the School Board because even with district enrollment of roughly 4,600 students, the cost would be less than the $10,000 threshold for expenses that require board approval. But he presented his recommendation and answered questions at the board’s July 8 meeting. The board proceeded to vote on the recommendation, which resulted in a 3-3 tie.

Board members Kay Gallo, Michael Kuhn and Planson voted no.

Kuhn said the district would simply get another list for its money. And, as the board already had approved the number of teachers for next year, eliminating students who are falsifying their residency will not result in savings on personnel.

“There is no advantage to doing this now,” Kuhn said.

Board President Richard Skoda and members Claudia Manley and Edward Corcoran voted to hire the firm.

“I personally want every student checked” on an annual basis, Manley said.

To Corcoran, the math is clear. The district reports it spends more than $16,000 per student.

“The payback on this is so high, I don’t understand what could be the opposition,” Corcoran said.

And, Law pointed out, each student who illegally attends classes dilutes the time and effort teachers have to spend on the students who live in the district.

The matter could be brought back for a vote July 21 when board member Victor Casini, who was absent July 8, could cast the deciding vote.

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