Millburn School Board Deletes Senior Exemption to Residency Policy

Millburn Board of Education President Jeffrey Waters and Vice President Regina Truitt discuss the revised school residency policy. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Board of Education on Monday voted to change its policy on residency to allow any student whose parents or guardians move out of the township on or after Feb. 1 of a school year to finish that school year in the district without payment of tuition.

The policy previously stated that, “pupils whose parent(s) or guardian(s) have moved away from the school district on or after the date that is one-half of the school year and 12th-grade pupils whose parent(s) or guardian(s) have moved away from the school district will be permitted to finish the school year in this district without the payment of tuition.”

A petition by former Board President Noreen Brunini had sought to have those students whose parents moved out of the district during a school year to pay tuition to the district and it would have allowed them to complete the school year in the district with the payment of the tuition charge.

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An attempt was made prior to Monday's vote approving the change to table the changed policy until further study was made of the plan. The motion to table was made by board member Chase Harrison and seconded by board vice president Regina Truitt.

In seconding the motion, Truitt said she had received a great deal of communication and emails on all sides of the issue and wanted more time to consider her options before voting on the proposal.

She also said that she would like to see an exemption to any proposal to charge tuition for parents going through divorce or other family situations that made their move from the township necessary.

Board member Eric Siegel said, however, that he saw the proposal as a tightening of the policy and saw little likelihood that if a child's parents moved away from the township after February that this would be discovered. He added that the district would gain little financially from a tuition charge.

Board President Jeffrey Waters noted the policy had been in effect for 16 years and had been changed three or four times over that time, chiefly to change the date about the parents' move out of the district.

He supported the move away from the senior exemption, but said the latest change, in addition to doing this, only cleared up the “fuzzy” February date.

Waters also said that some of those opposed to the policy on continuing students in the district after their parents moved had previously supported the policy, adding that those board members who opposed any board action had plenty of time to speak up before a policy was brought to a vote, and, once the policy was passed, should be presumed to be in support of the vote.

The board president said the community impression that the board was not tightening the policy was incorrect.

Harrison replied, that, as a member of the high school debating team, he had learned that to attack an opponent rather than refute his arguments was not a sound discussion tactic.

He also said the fact that the policy had only been revised three or four times was irrelevant.

Harrison also noted that future economic challenges facing the district due to the rising costs of employee benefits and other costs made the tuition charge even more relevant.

Policy committee chairman Raymond Wong said that if Harrison had a problem with the proposed policy change he should have submitted his objections to the policy committee. He added about half of the emails he had received were for the changed policy and half were against it.

Wong added it was not fair that 11th-grade students did not receive the same exemption to the former policy as seniors.

The policy chairman also said the policy could be modified again in the future if this was needed.

Brunini, speaking before the vote on the revised policy was taken, said many in the community felt the senior exemption was needed because seniors facing college acceptance would have a harder time adjusting to a new school right before graduation.

Those in kindergarten to 11th grade would have an easier time adjusting to a new school, she added.

However, the former board president said she still didn't like giving seniors “a free ride” and, if even 10 non-resident students had to pay tuition for remaining in the district after moving, this could pay the cost of one teacher.

On another matter related to residency, property committee chairman John Westfall-Kwong said his committee had discussed two online registration options, compared to the current system of re-registering students entering kindergarten and two random grades each year in addition to all new students.

Under the first option: All families would be required, online, to: Verify their contact information, digitally sign a statement or affidavit confirming the domicile of the student, provide a Property Identification Number (PIN) for comparison to township tax records or provide an appropriate lease confirmation affidavit. The district also would conduct an ongoing review and residency of investigation of any student identified as potentially living outside the district.

The second option would utilize a service or software to manage the annual registration of all grades—possibly as an additional Power School module. It also would require families to meet all the requirements of the first option and require all families to submit the same documentation that new students, kindergartens and those with students in two random grades currently are providing to establish a domicile for each student.

Former board member Josh Scharf, a frequent critic of board efforts to crack down on non-resident students, again questioned how Westfall-Kwong, at a previous board meeting, arrived at a figure of 52 students whose domicile the district felt it needed to confirm, and whose residency status would be further investigated if verification or documentation is not received. Scharf again cited statistics from a summary report of the Verify Residency software used by the district to track non-resident students, which, he said,  produced a total of 2,154 residences that the software program could not verify.

He called some of the board's claims that families with “multiple addresses” such as those for separate households in Millburn-Short Hills were removed from the suspicious list because they were not in question, “cryptic.”

In Scharf's opinion, 1,234 students determined to be non-residents in one Verify Residency database, at $18,000 per student would cost the district $22,212,000, while 1,904 in another Verify Residency database would cost the district $34,272,000 at the same per-pupil cost.

He also noted that, when Summit questions the residency of a student's parents, it requires them to back this up with voter registrations, court orders or other government-issued proof, which they must present in person. Millburn, on the other hand, he said, accepts email confirmation.

Scharf also said leases, driver's licenses and other proofs required by Millburn can easily be “faked” using templates available online.

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