ANNAPOLIS – Schools in Montgomery County have begun a monthlong initiative to verify the residency of its 10,000 eighth-grade students in the hope of recouping more than $200,000 by combating a continuing problem.
Montgomery County school officials say about 100 students could be found in violation of residency requirements and could have to pay the $10,000 a year out-of-county tuition or be denied enrollment in the fall.
“As Montgomery County has grown both in size and attractiveness, we are going to be subject to these kinds of violations of the residency requirement,” said Brian Porter, a spokesman for the school system.
Montgomery County is not alone in combating residency violations. While no other school system is in the process of mass verification, some smaller counties do check residency more frequently than Montgomery County.
Students must live in the county, pay tuition or have a recognized exemption to attend Montgomery County schools. The school system – the largest in the state with almost 140,000 students – requires residency verification, such as a property tax bill, utility bill or lease, the first time a student enrolls in the system.
Eighth-graders must verify residency by April 16, and more than $200,000 is expected to be saved through instructional and administrative costs.
Residency violations are a persistent problem in school districts throughout the state, said Carl Smith, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
“It is a major problem, especially for school systems that sit on the edge of these major urban centers,” he said.
Suburban school districts are attractive because they are perceived as being academically superior, Smith said, and high school residency violations may occur because of athletics.
The Maryland State Department of Education sets general guidelines for residency verification, but leaves it up to county school systems to decide what documentation is appropriate and how often it should be provided.
Montgomery County is one of the most affluent jurisdictions in the state and has a well-respected school system. Residency violations there may be made from students who live in Prince George’s or Frederick counties or the District of Columbia, said school board member Patricia O’Neill.
“We have heard anecdotal information of people that might not be bona fide residents of Montgomery County,” she said.
Carroll County Public Schools experience about 20 residency violation cases a year, said Director of Student Services Cindy Little.
False residency can cost the school system state funds, Little said, and Carroll County lets parents know that they can be charged with theft if their children are falsely enrolled.
“They take an inordinate amount of time to investigate,” she said. “Residency verification documents are critical for us to get the appropriate funding from the state.” Most violations in Carroll County are from families who lived there at one time but later moved.
Harford County Public Schools Spokesman Donald R. Morrison said his school system also has residency violations, but most are from county residents attending schools outside their assigned district.
“Certain areas of the county are perceived to be better,” he said.
Officials from other school systems said they think their requirements prevent many violations from ever occurring.
O’Neill, an eighth-grade parent, said there is an increase of 75 to 100 students per high school between eighth-grade and freshman year in Montgomery County. Most of those students are county residents from private schools, but some might be violators.
Students are not the real violators, though, said Michelle Yu, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations.
“Many times the situation is so hard for the child,” she said. “It’s the responsibility of the parents to make sure their children are legitimate recipients of public education.”