Councillors probe residency enforcement in public schools

City councillors pressed for answers on enforcing Boston Public Schools residency requirements at a Tuesday hearing, addressing the common refrain that students are being improperly sent to Boston schools from surrounding cities and towns.

BPS administrators said they would be cracking down on any confirmed instances of flouting residency rules. One violator would be getting invoices starting on Wednesday, they said.

City Councillor Annissa Essaibi George, as a former high school teacher, called for the hearing.

Essaibi George said she was concerned about allegations that the public school system could be manipulated to the benefit of non-Boston residents. In offering anecdotal instances of students using relatives or commercial adresses in school documentation, George and other councillors worried parents were working their children into Boston’s specialized and highest-performing schools.

The city needs “to make sure that the billion dollars we invest in our schools is going to families who live in Boston,” Essaibi George said at the hearing. “And we need to make sure that the seats in our schools go to children whose families live in Boston. This is only fair.”

Carolyn MacNeil, ombudsperson in the office of the BPS superintendent, testified that evidence does not suggest a widespread problem. Only five residency complaints have been lodged during this school year, she said.

The city does take residency investigations seriously, said MacNeil, who oversees the system’s residency investigator.

But the nature of the school investigation system is necessarily reactive, MacNeil said.

“You’re reacting to tips and information,” she said. “Additional resources would help us be more proactive.”

Essaibi George said, though she wants Boston schools to charge the offending families, “We are not here to punish children. No resolution of change in policy will be about that.”

Violators are subject to fines of $86.41 per day, MacNeil said, for a school-year charge of $15,554.
Boston’s successful early education programs, dual-language schools, and top exam high schools are a draw around the area, Councillor Tito Jackson said, which speaks highly of the programming available.

“This is actually saying there are people who want to come and they are willing to do things that are not on the up-and-up, to actually come to your schools,” Jackson said. With a waiting list of around 23,000 across BPS, “it is critical… that Boston students go to Boston schools, that they have access to those highly-chosen seats that folks are really pushing for.”