Columbia County schools investigate illegal enrollment

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August 14, 2006

Officials say illegal enrollment could be partly to blame for school overcrowding in Columbia County.

Columbia County Board of Education members suspect some of the county's students live outside the school system, and they are investigating whether some parents are using fake addresses to enroll their kids.

Many are trying to transfer after 17 Richmond County schools did not meet federal performance standards last year. But their options are limited since Columbia County is full.

Enrollment is up in Columbia County; that's why Richmond County parents like Janice Vaughn are having trouble transferring their kids from schools that are failing.

"It's sad. It's incredibly sad. It's very frustrating," she says.

Her child's school, Tutt Middle, didn't make adequate yearly progress.

"It hasn't been positive," she says. "He's had teachers throughout the years that have been less than supportive."

Vaughn asked both school boards for permission to transfer...but Columbia County board member Regina Buccafusco says with 21,000 students and 70 new teachers, there isn't room.

"If we can't adequately house our own students who live in our county and pay taxes here in permanent buildings, I couldn't justify allowing neighboring students come in," she says.

But it could be happening anyway. Parents reported seeing an increasing number of Richmond County tags at the schools. Now the board is investigating whether families are using address fraud.

They suspect parents could be doing things like paying other people's bills to make it appear they live in Columbia County.

"Parents want the best for their children, and parents will go to all extremes to get the best for their children," Buccafusco says.

The school board is checking up on everyone who recently moved to the way of doing that is tracking addresses through bus stops.

Buccafusco says the best option is move to Columbia County. But Vaughn says that would be more expensive than the $8000 she would spend sending her son to private school.

"We're going to fight to, if nothing else, make sure the system, this school system, stays on their Ps and Qs," Vaughn says.

Staying put could be only option, since the county next door has no vacancy.

If your school didn't make AYP, you do have options.

You can transfer schools within the county, or, if you want to switch systems, you need to request permission from both superintendents. That decision is up to the discretion of the school board.