U-CF residency issue is cleared by CCIU report
By John Chambless
The long-running issue of families living outside the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District but still sending their children to district schools was wrapped up -- at least temporarily -- with the release of the results of an investigation on July 22.
The independent review, conducted by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU), found that the district "acted in good faith regarding residency issues in the school district," according to an e-mail from the CCIU announcing the results.
Representatives of the CCIU presented the finished report to the school board in an executive session before the board's July 14 meeting. No mention of the report was made in the brief public meeting that followed that night, which was devoted to appointing a new board member.
In its summation of the investigation, the CCIU wrote, "Superintendent Dr. John Sanville assumed leadership of the district on September 1, 2011, and inherited a student residency issue that dated back to 2004. The case involved alleged non-resident students attending UCFSD schools. Superintendent Sanville commissioned the CCIU in February of 2014 to undertake an objective review of this specific residency case, and UCFSD residency policies and practices as a whole."
The CCIU studied the residency issue over the past four months, conducting data analysis, interviewing Sanville and board members, and examining the district's residency practices, as well of the policies in place in 14 surrounding school districts. The CCIU also got feedback from former school board member Holly Manzone, who publicly resigned from the board after conducting her own investigation of the family in question.
Her sudden resignation caused a storm of rumors among members of the public, leading to some frank condemnation of Manzone from school board members at subsequent meetings. Manzone was called "reckless and irresponsible" for driving to the family's home to see if they lived inside the district, and then following the family's car as they drove away from the home.
"The existing residency policy is sound," said Dr. Joseph J. O'Brien, the CCIU executive director.
The report analyzed current UCFSD practices related to student residency, evaluated the district's handling of the specific residency case, assessed the cost effectiveness of current residency investigation practices, and determined that the district's policies and practices conform to industry standards.
The report does recommend that the board adhere strictly to the existing policy (Policy 200), and review the procedures every two years. The CCIU also recommended that the district's business manager should be the point of contact for residency issues, because their job is to protect and conserve the district's resources.
"The Unionville-Chadds Ford board has undertaken a comprehensive review of their residency policies and procedures – making sound changes to the existing policies and procedures – and even implementing whole new policies to supersede the old policies," Dr. O'Brien said.
Regarding the family in question, many accusations were made by critics that some sort of deal had been made with the administration to allow the family to send their children to U-CF schools.
"There was no deal made by Dr. Sanville and/or the UCFSD board with the family in question," O'Brien said. "Dr. Sanville inherited this residency case from the previous administrative team – and he was the first superintendent to move on the family in question. He was motivated to do so by the good intentions of Dr. Manzone to bring this issue to the attention of the board and administration."
The full report (which is posted on the CCIU website at www.cciu.org/UCFSDreport) does, however, chastise Manzone. "While Dr. Manzone’s intentions were good, her actions in following the family were very inappropriate, bordering on dangerous, and way beyond the normal scope of a board member’s role," the report states. "She took these actions to check the situation out and bring proof that the family had a primary residence outside the UCFSD boundaries – but that is not a board member’s role."
As far as the costs involved, the report states that, "When compared with 14 other districts in Chester County and the surrounding region, the costs associated with investigating residency in UCFSD were found to be aligned, if not lower. The established procedures are therefore cost effective for the district. Over a three-year period, the district spent about $37,805 on student residency issues. The per pupil cost of services in UCFSD is more than $18,700, and the report, therefore, concludes that the amount expended by the district to verify residency is valid."
O'Brien wrote that, "The specific reputation of UCFSD is truly world class – and this is the school district of choice for many people. Unfortunately, such a quality school district can become very attractive to non-residents who live in nearby areas, and the school district must assume the burden of ensuring that taxpayers of Unionville-Chadds Ford do not pay for the educational program of non-residents."
In a follow-up e-mail sent to local media, school board president Vic Dupuis said, "Our aim all along has been to make sure we follow the law and do the right thing for taxpayers and students. It is reassuring to hear that everyone acted in good faith and that we now have the right policies and procedures in place. I want to underscore the point made in the report that our superintendent did everything right. He followed policy, acted aggressively, fully investigated and took appropriate action. No deals were made with this superintendent or board. This should put to rest any uncertainty."
According to specifics of the revised Policy 200, "District of residence shall be defined as the school district in which a student’s parents reside. When the parents reside in different school districts due to separation, divorce, or other reasons, the child may attend school in the district of residents of the parent with whom the child lives for a majority of the time, unless a court order or court approved custody agreement specifies otherwise.
"If the parents have joint custody and a child’s time is evenly divided, the parents may choose which of the two school districts the child will enroll for the school year. If the
parents maintain two residences, one within a district, one outside the District, the
district of residence shall be the residence where the child spends the majority of the
time when school is in session (that is, excluding winter, spring, and summer
“'Majority of the time' shall be construed as at least four nights a week," the policy states.
The CCIU report states that, "At this point in time, the issue of student residency is not
considered to be a major issue confronting the UCFSD – by the board, the administrative team, and the majority of the community. However, for some people from the UCFSD community, this is a major issue and they will seek vigilance.
"Dr. Sanville made no deal," the report states. "However, it appears the family in question was admitted under a different standard of residency. In 2004, the superintendent set a different residency standard for family [name deleted]. Specifically, if they had a driver's license, voter registration and a utility bill with a UCFSD address, they could register students in UCFSD. The family met that standard.
"In 2012, Dr. Sanville set a new more rigorous residency standard. ... Dr. Sanville informed the family that 'if the children are sleeping at the [name deleted] residence in the UCFSD district the majority of the time -- defined as at least four days per week -- then they will be considered residents of the UCFSD."
Since 2012, the district has monitored the family to ensure that they are complying with the new standard. Investigators have determined, in the course of about 20 residency checks, that they are in compliance.
"It is apparent that the family in question did not properly reside in the school district for a substantial period of time prior to Dr. Sanville and Dr. Manzone spotlighting this case," the report states. "They were allowed to do so by previous administrative leaders. ... Based upon the current UCFSD policies and procedures, the [name deleted] family is complying with all current requirements, and the students are entitled to attend UCFSD schools."