Currently, anyone living outside city limits, including faculty and staff of the school system, must pay $1,350 a year in tuition per child who attends any school in the system, though there is a family cap of $3,500.
Some board members are concerned that for employees of the system who pay the tuition, the abuse of the system by other, non-resident employees will hurt morale.
Board Member Rob Walker said he is aware of some employees that have taken second jobs to make the tuition payments, while others are able to shirk the rules.
Superintendent David Hicks said that there is currently a resource officer who works nearly full-time checking on the legitimacy of addresses provided by parents. Hicks said that some fraudulent addresses have been pinpointed so far, and parents are given the option of paying tuition, including back-payments to the beginning of the school year, or withdrawing from the system. Despite the finds so far, Hicks said proving a false address can be difficult. He suggested that the system consider requiring parents to sign an affidavit that explicitly outlines the consequences of providing false addresses.
Board Member Vann Pelt asked whether it would be feasible to hire an investigator to check up on suspicious addresses. Hicks said that the resulting tuition payments – if false addresses are found – could pay for the expense.
“We’ve had discussions before of the non-collections, from people who are abusing the system,” Pelt said. “If we leave [tuition] like it is, we ought to re-emphasize the rules.”
Hicks suggested that the board forgo the tuition increase for next year because he said the amount an increase would generate would not be worth the expense on system parents.
Board Chairman Darryl Sellers said another increase could cause the loss of good students, though the system has been increasing tuition by $100 each year for the past three years.
“I know it’s our job as administrators [to check on addresses], but that level of investigation is extremely difficult,” Hicks said.
As circumstances often vary, with students living in different households at different times of the year, and families living with other families, the difficulty of finding false addresses increases.
Board Member Brandall Lovvorn said that he is aware of parents who pay rent above the cost of tuition to live within city limits, just to meet the criteria of enrollment in the system.
For non-resident students, the application for attending any system school requires the student’s educational and cultural background, and enrollment numbers are often too high for admittance. Students of system employees are given preference over non-employees, and students with higher achievement are given preference as well.
“It’s hard to swallow when some employees work hard to pay the tuition,” Hicks said. “I understand that we’ll have to revisit [tuition rates] again, but for this year, we’ll hold the line.”
Hicks said that the board will ultimately have to vote on whether to pay for additional investigations, though the system personnel will continue to search for those that are abusing the system.