Houston DA, school board team up to combat false enrollment

The Houston County Board of Education plans to team up with the Houston County District Attorney’s office in an attempt to stop people who are falsifying information to enroll in system schools.

Superintendent David Carpenter sent an e-mail to school board members Monday morning regarding plans to announce the collaboration. Neither Carpenter nor assistant superintendent Robin Hines would comment on the matter before a joint news conference scheduled for 10 a.m. today in the District Attorney’s office at the Houston County Judicial Complex in Perry.

Some parents from outside the county who bring students into Houston County and those within the county who switch to schools outside of their zones are doing so by providing false documentation with the district’s affidavits of residence or false rental agreements, according to the e-mail. Providing false statements or documentation is a felony.

“Other systems indicated they are finding the same thing, and we started looking at ours to see if it was happening or not,” board of education member Fred Wilson said. “We discovered we did have some.”

Wilson did not have any figures on how many students may be using false addresses to enroll in Houston County schools.

“We are continuing to have growth in the county. We’ve got to do things to make sure we have space for those in county,” Wilson said.

Other board members either could not be reached or declined to comment until after the news conference.

Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke said parents living outside Houston County but enrolling their students in the county are potentially costing taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” He estimated that cost could range from a $500,000 to $1 million.

Parents within the Houston County school system who enroll their children in the wrong school zone for their residence create a management issue for school officials, often requiring the transfer of teachers and resources to meet student populations at various schools, he said.

Falsifying affidavits of residence or providing false rental agreements in order to enroll children in the county system or in the wrong school is punishable by one to five years in prison upon conviction, the prosecutor said. But the sentence could be probational, he said.

Today’s news conference is designed to fire a warning shot, Burke said. Those who don’t correct the situation will face aggressive prosecution, he said.

“I want to give anybody who might be engaged in it an opportunity to rectify it before we start pursuing indictments,” Burke said.

Wilson said the school district will give parents at least a week for students to return to their designated schools.

However, even if the situation is rectified, some parents may be required to pay restitution in order to avoid prosecution. The state pays the school system an amount determined by a complex formula to pay for each child’s education, but that amount does not cover all costs, Burke said. Last year, Houston County’s share of educating each child was about $3,000, he said.

“For some cases, just fixing it is not enough,” Burke said. “It’s fix it and making us whole.”

The people most likely targeted in the first round of indictments would be those who have been secretly bringing their children across county lines every day, Burke said.

“They know they’re breaking the law,” he said.

Similar action has been taken against a Clayton County woman who used her brother-in-law’s address to enroll her son in a Henry County school earlier this year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The two face five years’ probation and a $1,000 fine each, as well as nearly $1,200 in tuition costs from the first half of her son’s year at Louella High School in Henry County and 100 hours of community service.

In Bibb County, the school system requires documentation from parents that a child lives in that school system, said deputy superintendent Sylvia McGee. If the documentation can’t be provided, then the parent or guardian must sign an affidavit.

McGee said the schools will do checks to make sure the students who are there are supposed to be there.

“We don’t do any kind of roundup,” she said. “The schools will do a job periodically checking on addresses. We’ll use mail, we’ll use phone numbers as ways to ascertain (enrollment).”

If the system discovers a student from another county is in a Bibb County school, the parents are required to pay the out of county tuition, McGee said.

Telegraph writer Phillip Ramati contributed to this report. To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.