WEST ORANGE, NJ — With forged documents becoming commonplace to get children into better school districts, according to the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE), the board invited licensed professional investigator Jimmie Mesis, of Verify Residence, to make a presentation on Monday about using technology to verify that students of West Orange public schools live in the district.
Mesis told the WOBOE that he estimates between 140-to-280 unauthorized out-of-district students based on the 1-percent-to 4-percent average he has found in other similar New Jersey districts.
With West Orange being well known for its excellent special education program, Mesis estimated that there are between three-to-seven special education students in its schools who live out-of-district. Mesis added that his access to every credit bureau and the US Postal service’s national change of address database would identify students who live outside of West Orange and should not be attending its schools.
“If we find there is no record of the name and address you provide to us, it’s more than likely a fraud—a made-up address,” said Mesis.
He added that at a $20,000 cost per student, and an approximately $40,000 cost for a special education student, the township’s schools are losing a lot of money at a time when budgets are tighter than ever. Mesis said his firm could perform the “verify residence” audit for the entire West Orange school system for approximately $10,000.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said WOBOE member Ron Charles, who favored hiring Mesis. “Even if we find only one out-of-district student, this audit will more than pay for itself.”
Mesis said that this audit would also help West Orange’s truancy agents, who will have more accurate information as to where all students live. He added that the township’s officers who check on residency issues will find his data most useful during investigations.
“I heard about Mesis’ work at a meeting of New Jersey superintendents, and they all raved about Jimmie’s program,” said Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky, who highly recommended the program to the board.
The WOBOE will vote on this matter at its next meeting on Feb. 13.
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