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Nov 9, 2011 8:41 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Schools Investigating Rental House Residency Imposters

Nov 9, 2011 11:05 AM

The Sag Harbor School District is investigating the possibility that more than one family might be sharing a rental house in the district, using the address to allow their children to attend the district’s schools even though they actually live elsewhere, according to the district’s superintendent, Dr. John Gratto.

The district has hired a private investigator to look into the allegation of the residency abuse, though Dr. Gratto said the district still does not know how many families are renting the house. He would not say where the house is located.

“What we are following up on is an allegation that there are some families living in a house with a Sag Harbor address merely as a facade, when they really live someplace else,” Dr. 
Gratto said. “We don’t know 
yet if it’s real, or how many families we may be talking about here, but the allegation is multiple.”

The investigation began after district officials were tipped off to the possible subterfuge by a resident, the superintendent said. The claim is that the families rented the house but do not live in it, bilking the district out of revenue, since the 
district would normally charge tuition for out-of-district children to attend Sag Harbor schools.

District Business Manager Janet Verneuille said the district is also scouring enrollment data to determine how many students might be registered in the district using that house as their place of residency.

It is not the first time the school has launched such an investigation. Ms. Verneuille said the district is currently investigating eight students for claiming residency under false pretenses, though she estimated that probably half of those ultimately will be found to be legitimate. Dr. Gratto said the district has had as many as three to four such investigations under way at any given time in recent years and has removed 10 students from its school population since he became superintendent because they were found to not reside in the district.

Sag Harbor regularly employs a private investigator to track parents and students, including taking photos of them outside their homes, to prove that they are living outside the district.

It is not uncommon for school districts to investigate residency doubts regarding one or more of its students, but Sag Harbor has become a hotbed for imposters in recent years. The district’s comparatively small class sizes and high test scores have spurred a swelling of the number of families who have enrolled their students in its two schools under false pretenses.

“We have small classes and a very nice student population that is well behaved and academically inclined, so it’s a 
place where a lot of parents want to send their kids,” Dr. Gratto said. “But we, of course, have a financial responsibility to 
make sure that they are residing here.”

The superintendent said that in some cases the improper enrollments are an honest mistake or a product of confusion about rules. Divorced parents, one living in the district the other not, might enroll a student in the school even though he or she technically lives with the parent who is outside the district. Some families may even own property in Sag Harbor but live elsewhere, which does still not entitle their child to attend the school tuition-free.

Most often, he said, it’s a matter of a family that moves out of the district but wants their kids to continue attending the same school, so they simply never inform the district they have moved. “From a parent’s point of view, their child likes the school and they want their kids to stay here,” Dr. Gratto said. “But there is a fee—that’s your taxes if you live in the district. But if you don’t pay taxes here, it’s tuition.”

Sag Harbor has just over 1,000 students in its elementary and middle-high school.

The district’s popularity has swelled the number of students who come to the district from outside its boundaries under legitimate circumstances as well. A dozen families from outside the district pay Sag Harbor hefty tuition rates to send their students to its schools.

The district charges $16,217 for students to attend its elementary school and $21,080 for students to attend middle school or high school at Pierson.

Another 20 students from the Springs and Sagaponack school districts—10 from each—attend the schools as well, their tuition paid by their respective districts. In 2009, the district opened its classes to students from those districts as a revenue-generating measure, which is possible only if the sending district adopts a policy of allowing its students to attend another district’s schools. Springs School District approved Sag Harbor as a receiving district as part of its ongoing dispute with the East Hampton School District over the rates it must pay to send its matriculating students to East Hampton High School.

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I think all schools should do this. False residency is rampant on the east end and schools have an obligation to confirm the residency of the student population. If more people would alert the authorities when this happens, we could save tax dollars. It's a no-brainer. We have got to find a way to stop the ever increasing culture of "gaming the system" in America.
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on Nov 10, 11 10:32 AM
1 member liked this comment
Awesome. Accountability!
By HarborDad (37), Sag Harbor on Nov 10, 11 12:14 PM