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updated: 11/16/2011 4:18 PM

Residency checks remove 81 Dist. 204 students

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In a school district with 29,500 students, 81 may not seem like very many.

But 81 is the number of students removed since August from the rolls of Indian Prairie Unit District 204 as a result of residency checks that determined they do not live within the district's borders.

Without the responsibility of educating those 81 students at about $10,020 each, the residency checks add up to hundreds of thousands in savings, said Terri Drendel, who has served since July as assistant director of residency and registration.

"It is an intention of the board and of our school district to make sure the resources of our residents are protected for the benefit of our students, our families and our taxpayers," Drendel said. "Over time, it will be a significant savings to the residents because we're not educating students who are not paying taxes."

Calculating the district's savings isn't quite as simple as multiplying the cost of educating one student by 81, Drendel said, because the district receives some funding based on how many students it enrolls. With 81 fewer students, that funding will decrease slightly, she said.

Efforts to investigate student residency increased when Drendel's position was created in July.

"We've always investigated questionable residency," she said. "But now we're more active in verifying residency and pursuing questionable residency."

School board President Curt Bradshaw said it's critical the district protects the taxpayer money it receives.

"Frankly, when people enroll in our schools that don't live or pay taxes in our district, they are stealing from our taxpayers," Bradshaw said. "There's no way to sugar coat it -- it's theft. And that's not something we are going to stand for."

Cases are brought to Drendel's attention whenever the documentation needed to prove residency is unusual or lacking, she said.

The district requires one document from each of three categories to prove a family lives in its borders. The first category includes a mortgage statement, lease agreement or evidence of title; the second requires a utility bill requesting payment for services like gas, electricity or home phone; the third includes a driver's license, state identification card or other photo identification, among other documents.

Sometimes families who can't provide the paperwork actually live in the district.

"In these economic times, many families are living with other families, so they may not be able to provide residency documents in their name," Drendel said.

In some cases, Drendel hires private investigation firms to prove whether a student lives in-district; but she said she's spent less than $5,000 this year on private investigations.

Residents who think they know of a student who doesn't live in the district's boundaries can report the situation through the tip line on the district's website.

"We do often receive tips when neighbors suspect that people are falsely representing their residency," Drendel said. "That is very helpful. Every tip is checked out."

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