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Editorials

Our view: Local taxes should support local students

DeKalb High School
DeKalb High School

A federal lawsuit’s claim that there were 1,000 out-of-district students attending school in DeKalb-based District 428 always seemed a bit high.

If, as a recent investigation by the district suggests, that number is “only” about 300 students, it remains a widespread fraud upon local taxpayers.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2017 in federal court in Rockford by an anonymous DeKalb resident. It claimed that district officials had ignored the number of out-of-district students in local schools and that one administrator had actually coached people on how to enroll even though they lived elsewhere.

In response, District 428 school board members decided to investigate students' residency. Based on a sample of 1,300 students – about 20 percent of the total district enrollment of 6,600 – investigators determined about 5 percent of students had questionable residency status. That was after checking private and publicly available databases and sending letters to parents. So far, their review has cost $17,860.

Given the large sample size, it's not unreasonable to expect that about 5 percent of students – roughly 300 children – in the district may not live within the district boundaries. District officials should identify those students and refer their parents or guardians to the appropriate school system.

Educating out-of-district students is a drag on local resources. The district spends about $7,400 a student just in instructional cost. That comes to $2.2 million it would spend on out-of-district students who don't pay tuition.

Parents or guardians should be able to show that a child lives and sleeps at their "home" address. It is not unethical or unfair to ask they do so. District administrators have told parents and guardians they are available to meet with them through Friday to clear up misunderstandings.  

State school report card data shows total enrollment at District 428 schools grew by 277 students from 2011 to 2015, even though there were only a handful of new homes built during that period. That would suggest the new students are coming from rental housing – a more transient population who can change their residence much more easily.

Property owners are the majority stakeholders in the local school system. Many homeowners pay thousands each year to District 428. Local property taxes provided more than $50 million, about 60 percent of the District 428 budget in 2015-'16, report card data shows.

Homeowners are required to dig deep to support local education every year. They expect their money to educate local children, not those who pretend to live here.

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