Millburn School Board President Responds to Residency Controversy

MILLBURN, NJ - Saying that Millburn’s Board of Education and the community needed to “clear up some misinformation that has been circulated about residency,” Jeffrey Waters, the President of the Board of Education, declared at Monday’s meeting that, “too much rhetoric is being taken as fact, and too many facts are being twisted or ignored.”

He added, “I’ve heard and read the statistic of 1,000 or even as high as 1,500 non-residents within our total student population of about 4,900. That’s just not plausible. In fact, it is downright preposterous.”

Waters noted that the above figures equate to four, five, even as many as seven or eight students in every classroom being non-residents.

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He added that last week one of the district’s elementary school principals told her parent-teacher organization that, in the last 10 years, she has chased down or forwarded to the administration dozens of claims and rumors on non-resident families. In that time, Waters said, only one student was confirmed as a non-resident.

“We hear similar sentiments from each of our schools and, personally, I trust that our principals are accurate,” Waters said.

He added, “It’s disturbing that rumors such as this one circulated with unsubstantiated and nonspecific information have taken root in such a caring and engaged community like Millburn.”

While Waters said he is not surprised that families interested in a great education work hard to get their children into a community and district like Millburn, he added that he believes 99 percent of families—like his own—are honest and hardworking.

He added the district has rules to register new families, verify existing students and investigte potential nonresidents “so that all of us know that our tax dollars are being spent wisely.”

He said every rumor or claim with specific facts get investigated and, the Millburn district has had more residency hearings presented to the school board in the past 12 months than in the past decade, with the majority resulting in proof of residency.

The board president said the Millburn board passed policy 5111, which he called “the most stringent nonresident policy in at least 15 years.”

Waters noted Board of Education members work with the district to benchmark the best practices for district staff to implement following communication with districts such as Kenilworth, Tenafly, Ridgewood and Greenwich.

After requests from the public, he noted, the 2014 Millburn board “moved swiftly to authorize the expenditure for funding for—a service utilized to identify students and families with potential addresses outside of the district. Per the request of the community, the property committee reviewed the overall process district staff implemented in order to reach out to potential nonresidents.”

He reminded Millburn residents that students are considered residents if they and their parents and/or guardians are domiciled in Millburn-Short Hills.

Waters added that anyone who was aware of someone who has moved out of town and has children still attending township public schools should notify the district. Suspicions may be reported anonymously.

The board and district, he noted, act on all reports of nonresidents.

“All board of education members are taxpayers in this town,” he said. “We want our taxes to be spent wisely and hope that the number of community members giving credence to conspiracy theories continues to diminish.”

Waters added school body members remain involved in the schools they, their children or siblings or they themselves attend and they have not been exposed to any direct information regarding illegal residents.

“The many parents they speak to are unable to provide a single name of someone they know much less the hundreds or even thousands of names of students who purportedly are here illegally,” he said.

Waters noted what he hears in the community is concern and outrage and that the focus of the board of education should not be on  “vague conspiracy theories.”

He said those who hear “vague rhetoric ramped up for the campaign season”  should ask for facts instead of rumors.

“We abhor the stigmatization of any minority group and/or the singling out of families who rent and are domiciled here as well as community families dealing with separation and divorce. Millburn is better than that,” he concluded.

Canoe Brook Road resident Ken Ettinger agreed with many of Waters’ remarks.

He said that, while it was good that the public brought forth the residency issue, and he supported the right of any resident to speak his or her mind, there were 111 separate classes in the township’s elementary schools and “hundreds more in the high school.”

If one more or one fewer student were to be discovered (attending township schools illegally), Ettinger noted, there would be no or a marginal effect.

He said the school district could use lie detectors on every student or send trained security personnel to every home in search of nonresident students, but the results might be great sums of money spent on attorneys to defend against lawsuits and psychologists and other personnel, which would cause many to move from Millburn-Short Hills.

Ettinger urged speakers at board meetings not to come to advance their personal agendas but to advance the betterment of the school system.

“Reasonable disagreement is fine,” he said. “but hijacking the education of our children is not.”

Meanwhile, in one of three presentations on scholastic achievement at Monday’s meeting, Millburn high school principal William Myron introduced about half of the 17 students from the school who have been named National Merit Scholaship semifinalists.

The 17 semifinalists are: Alex Brod, Ambika Chetal, Ian Jaffe, George Jiang, Angela Jin, John Li, Daniel Meisel, Sally Morris, David Neiman, Stephanie Rothman, Griffin Schwab, Srujana Sinha, Michael Tang, Amber Teetsel, Andrew Tham and Mark Wang.

Waters noted that there are approximately 15,000 Merit semifinalists named each year nationally, and with 17, Millburn this year had more than one tenth of one percent of the national total.

In official action at Monday’s session, the board approved a memorandum of agreement with the Millburn Association of Supervisors and Administrators covering the period of July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017.

Board negotiations chairman John Westfall-Kwong thanked negotiators for both sides for reaching what, he said, was an agreement fair to both sides while taking into consideration the economic challenges facing the community.

Westfall-Kwong did not disclose the precise terms of the agreement because it still has to be ratified by the supervisors’ group.

In his property committee report, Westfall-Kwong said board representatives recently met with township official about suggestions the board might reaquire the Millburn Day School. The school district has the right of first refusal on the property, which now is a state-sponsored school for educationally-challenged students.

He noted that the school facility, which previous belonged to the district, might provide a more permanent home for pre-school facilities and help expand outdoor school programs.

The property committee chairman added, however, that the township, which has a right of second refusal on the property, may also be interested in the facility.

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