Special Report: Falsifying Residency for School Enrollment - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Special Report: Falsifying residency for school enrollment

MADISON COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

It's what our nation is built on - the ability to receive a good education, but how far would you go to make sure your child gets into the district of your choice.

Some are going as far as falsifying residency documents. The most recent audit from the Mississippi Auditor's Office and found some startling statistics.

Dr. Ronnie McGehee, Superintendent of Madison County, says the district has had to beef up enrollment procedures to ensure the students who attend Madison County schools actually live there.

"It's becoming more and more of a hot button Issue in both cities of Ridgeland and Madison," said Dr. McGehee. "Verification of residency, two bills and we have all that listed out and for you to own, rent, own, or lease a property in Madison County."

A 2012 -2013 audit of the district found many schools within Madison County had missing, incomplete or invalid proof of residency.

So now, the district has implemented more checks and balances. Enrollment requirements in each school district in Mississippi are reviewed by the state auditor's office.

"Do they have the proper written policy they are required to have, are they current and up to date and then we simply look are they following their own policies," said Stacey Pickering, State Auditor of Mississippi.

You'd be surprised at just how many school districts in Mississippi were not compliant in student enrollment from 2012 to 2013.  Pickering says in a 2012-2013 comprehensive report, his office examined 46 of the state's 152 school districts and found 100 percent of the schools did have current policies on residency requirements but were not compliant.

"When we started checking, we do a sample of the students in different schools within that district," Pickering explained. "What we found was 96 percent of the districts were not compliant with their own written policies nor with state laws."

The comprehensive report included locally, JPS, Canton and Rankin County.

"If you've got a great successful school district right next door, I totally understand the temptation," added Pickering. "The problem is our state laws don't allow you to make those choices."

But some parents, like Jackie King, disagree.

"Every parent wants the best education possible for their child and I'm a firm believer that the selection of the school should be the parents' choice," King said.

Jackie King pays for her son to attend St. Joe's every year but she doesn't see anything wrong with parents using a different address to get their kids into the district they prefer.

Local school districts have now teamed up with law enforcement to crack down on offenders.

Ricky Bracey Ridgeland Police Department School Resource Officer says it's something he deals with every year. He has arrested two people allegedly cheating the system. He says he looks for signs like frequent late attendance, driver's tags and sometimes gets tips by word of mouth.

"We check apartments, we check houses, rental houses, just randomly," Bracey explained.

The city of Ridgeland now has an ordinance making it a misdemeanor if you're caught.

You may remember back in 2010, when 47 year old Aurora Baugh of Jackson tried to forge a rental lease to enroll her child at Ridgeland High School. She was caught and had to pay a $55 hundred dollar fine.

I also went to some apartment complexes in Madison County. No leasing agent wanted to go on camera but told me they have people who get short term leases all the time for the address to register.

Bracey says the consequence can be costly.

"They're fined like $45 dollars a day that we can determine from the time they left the district to the time they were caught," said Bracey. "If we don't find out till the end of the school year, that can be a pretty hefty fine." 

It's an equitable issue for taxpayers as well.

"The taxpayers of this county are having to subsidize that student's education without them contributing to that tax base, so it's a whole issue of that front," said Pickering.  

Dr. McGehee says Madison County Schools could be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars due to educating kids who don't live in the district.

Which is why he has this to say to people thinking about doing it.

"Don't do it," McGehee said. "We love to have you if you're a legal resident of the county, if you're a bone-fide resident of the county we will do the best job that we can to educate your children."

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