Questionable residency cases rising at OPRF

During 2017-18 school year, officials ruled 245 students ineligible

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

A recent presentation to the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education by OPRF Principal Nathaniel Rouse revealed that 245 people were prohibited from enrolling at the high school during the 2017-18 school year after residency checks found that they did not live in the school district. 

Rouse's report showed that both the number of residency cases determined ineligible and the number of questionable cases that the district had to look into have risen markedly over the last five years.

Between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years, the number of questionable cases has increased by around 30 percent — from 853 to 1,102. During that same period, the number of cases declared ineligible increased by nearly 47 percent — from 167 to 245.

During an April 17 committee of the whole meeting where he presented the data, Rouse explained that most of the 245 individuals who were turned away from OPRF this school year were attempting to transfer from Chicago's Austin neighborhood, Forest Park, Maywood, Berwyn and Bellwood.

In his report, Rouse explained that "it's almost impossible" for the district to know the schools those students were registered in when they were trying to enroll at OPRF.

Questionable enrollment cases at OPRF last year came up during the residency verification period last June, when the district's verification staff reviewed information that was submitted online and compared it to residency documentation that families provided.

The verification staff includes Jennifer Hoffman, OPRF's assistant principal of student services; Gabriela Martinez, the registrar and residency coordinator; Toula Boznos, the registrar; and Frank Kennedy and Elizabeth Dickson, both district investigators.

Enrollment and residency verification applies to all incoming freshmen at OPRF, according to a letter the district sent to families on April 18. The residency verification process is "to help ensure that only students who legally reside within the district's boundaries receive educational services funded by district tax dollars."

This year, online residency verification for the 2018-19 school year runs from May 24 through June 26, district officials said.

"With the effective and experienced help of our team and additional clerical and [district investigators'] support, we were able to clear the majority of our families as well as identify potential cases that needed to be followed up," Rouse stated in his report.

Rouse said enrollment issues are typically prompted by a variety of red flags, including "expired leases with insufficient proofs of address or fraudulent proofs of residency," claims of "live-in situations" that were ruled invalid after home visits, calls from landlords alerting the district that their tenants had moved out of the area and returned mail, among other things.

Rouse said some strategies the verification staff use to determine residency include "follow-up phone calls with families, landlords and previous schools, public database checks, home visits, interviews and surveillances."


Reader Comments

27 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Jeff Evans from Oak Park  

Posted: May 2nd, 2018 4:55 PM

When did the enrollment start ticking up noticeably? From the 2000 to 2010 census, the population of "Persons 5 to 17 years" increased by 92, or about 1%. It would be interesting to see how the 2010-2020 numbers change as well. Source:

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: May 2nd, 2018 9:04 AM

Neal, one might look at the enrollment trends in the (remaining) Catholic and other private alternatives over the same time frame. It was once possible for middle class families to pay taxes and private tuitions. The Districts have made that very difficult for all but the wealthiest. To provide my children with a classical education, I would be forced to (and am always open to) move to a less expensive community. The school budgets have trapped the consumer by leaving taxpayers little money to purchase alternatives. Therefore, more community children consume the public product. I'm not saying residential gaming isn't occurring, but consider how many students once attended St. Edmunds in your calculations.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 2nd, 2018 8:45 AM

Meanwhile, Dist 97 is on a spending spree to add staff and new classrooms, which are justified by all the new students. So somehow this huge bogus residency trend is not even a story with Dist 97, as they must be looking the other way during sign ups because it is in the school administrators interest to be able to say school population is growing.

Nick Polido  

Posted: May 2nd, 2018 7:02 AM

" Rouse explained that "it's almost impossible" for the district to know the schools those students were registered in when they were trying to enroll at OPRF" How is that not possible to ascertain? We our paying 5 people on the verification staff to determine residency. It seems our verification staff is completely inept at their job if they can't determine where these students transfer from.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 30th, 2018 8:41 PM

Evanston has a population of 78,000, and a part of Skokie adds maybe 2,000. So, Evanston HS has about the same number of students as OPRF HS. The total population of OakPark and River Forest is about 63,000. The enrollment just doesn't compute. We should have under 3,000 students.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 30th, 2018 8:27 PM

Doesn't compute. Since 2010, we adding housing geared for families without children. Our LBGTQ community doesn't add students in any numbers. Old people still live here. We are attracting professional dings (duel incomes, on kids). The familise without school children have to account for maybe 15,000 people. The only thing I can think of is that the private school students are going public due to high taxes, OR we are paying for students that live elsewhere.

Elizabeth Austin from Oak Park   

Posted: April 30th, 2018 6:53 PM

Neal, I think I can help you out. It's true that the overall populations NUMBERS have not changed, but there has been a shift in the PEOPLE who make up those numbers. Because Oak Park is known for its school system, young families are moving here at a high rate, and they're buying the homes of older people who do not have young children in school. So the number of students can increase without a corresponding increase in the overall population.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 30th, 2018 5:49 PM

I'm just trying to figure out why we have had a 7% increase in enrollment since 2010, with no increase in total population. An increase of over 200 students costs the taxpayer $4.5million per year. When the baby boomers were in school, the population in Oak Park was about 63,000. Now it's around 52,000, but we have the almost the same number of students we had back then, when every household had 3 to 7 kids or more. Something doesn't compute.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 30th, 2018 12:20 PM

I don't know where anyone said anything about shaming people caught trying to enter an Oak Park school when they do not live in Oak Park. And there is also no shame in saying this problem needs to be solved. At $22k per student, this problem would be costing all of us $5.4 million a year extra. Over $50 million a decade. And that is just OPRF, and does not count what goes on at District 97 or students who slip through the system. It explains entirely why property taxes are becoming unsustainable and it is unique to us because of our walking distance proximity to Chicago. People who think it is ok to look the other way on this are only going to make it worse.

Kathy Müller  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 8:57 PM

There is a big difference between successfully verifying legal residency and having "their names publicly announced and shamed." I'll all for residency requirements. When OPRF started to verify annually (and not just freshman year), I thought it was a compassionate, community-based approach, rather than singling out and humiliating any particular kid. I don't mind giving an hour every year to support the wider community. Nobody benefits from shaming, especially the kids.

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 6:06 PM

Kathy-I take your point. And at one time, was not at all riled over engaged parents conspiring to steal algebra. The long term cost to society was far less than that of ignorance. Of course, that was before $22k expenditure per student. And many legislative changes that often make these at risk kids more expensive to support than the average per student cost. So I have great compassion for those trying to escape failing schools, but many of us are holding on by fingernails to get our kids through their OP educations in which we have invested great time and treasure for decades. To say we don't deserve food on our tables because we chose to live next to Austin is really offensive. It is not my children's full bellies that destroyed Westside Schools, and we are eating lots of canned goods to afford ours. I have great empathy, but that is all many of us can give after funding OP schools and services for 25 years. D200 is far too expensive and inefficient a charity vehicle.

Al Rossell  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 5:09 PM

This isn't a matter of lack of compassion. It is a matter of people gaming the system and resulting in the rest of us paying the price. How many times does a grandmother (Oak Park Resident) say that the two grandkids are living with her although they go home every night to a different community. We get rental applications like that throughout the year but we do not have the authority to question. The school board needs more personnel to check as I believe there is a short window of time that the school board has to deny entrance. Leases are suppose to have kids names on them as additional occupants but the school board rarely calls us to verify

Kathy Müller  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 4:59 PM

Wow, I am embarrassed by the lack of empathy expressed in the comments below. Am I really reading an Oak Park newspaper? We privileged (mostly White) folks shake our heads and complain about gangs and crime and parents who don't seem to give a darn. And here we have parents who are so desperate for their kids to be safe and to get a good eduction - to have a real chance in life - and our first response is to "publicly shame" them?? Am I suggesting that we open the doors wide to non-residents? Of course not. But I am appalled that we're focusing on punitive actions instead of empathic discussion. This is not what Oak Park stands for. If you don't want to deal with these real-life issues and sometimes maybe pay taxes for them, then don't live across the street from the West Side.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 4:10 PM

Great idea Neal. I will suggest to some of the "permanent" homeless in DTOP that they go to Ruth's house, and experience her generosity and hospitality. Now Ruth can you give me your address?

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 2:04 PM

Ruth, unfortunately schools are funded by property taxes for the benefit of students that live in the district. Your comments suggest that anyone can move into your home that wants to and you will support them. Afterall, don't you have sympathy for people that want to move in with you?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 2:03 PM

Has any parent or guardian of a student who was improperly sent to the school, years later after the student has graduated, come back to the Board and paid back of any portion of their debt? Has any student who was improperly sent to the school years later after they graduated college sent any portion of money back to the school to pay their debt? I would imagine anyone could obtain the name of the bank handling the funds of the school and make a cash donation. Some parents live out of district, state that, and pay the tuition top send their out of district student to school.

Ruth Lazarus from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 1:05 PM

Does anyone have any sympathy for parents who are trying to get a good education for their children, or do we just want to punish them? Why don't we save the outrage for a system where children can be denied a good education because of the community they happen to be born into.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 10:56 AM

Of course the same trend is happening at District 97, but it is very hard to trust that they are dealing with it by aggressively verifying enrollments. The same admins who justify wanting more tax money all the time for additional teacher headcount use the increased enrollment as their main argument.

Klara Gabor  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 9:31 AM

I live on the east side of Oak Park and I watch groups of students every morning and afternoon walking into Oak Park from Austin and back into Austin. I have seen this for years, it is nothing new. It is a shame if children have to suffer but, it should not be allowed. Parents should have to pay or relatives be held accountable legally for allowing use of their address to falsify residency. If, parents cannot or will not pay then expel the student.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: April 27th, 2018 7:42 AM

Arrest them for providing false information. This is a crime. No free passes. Prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2018 6:07 PM

Bruce - agree with you 110%. Absolutely these people should be billed. But - what are the chances the money would ever be collected if the parents can be found? Or the relatives whose name is used as "Home Address" be held liable? And would that bring our taxes down? Seems to me that OPRF could find some of these kids also when they get dropped off at South and Cuyler and other places around OPRF so they don't go down Scoville with a Chicago sticker on their car.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 26th, 2018 4:14 PM

Root canal is needed because of rot and decay. Stay away from what causes rot and decay and there is no need for root canal.

Bruce O'Brien  

Posted: April 26th, 2018 3:45 PM

The story says nothing about the consequences for being caught. Does the district have the right to back-bill the families for services rendered?? Can the district file criminal charges for theft through deception? Somehow those scofflaw parents must be forced to pony-up the money for out-of-district tuition and also have their names publicly announced and discredited ("shamed") so the message gets out that lying and stealing (which is what it is) will never be tolerated by this school district. Honesty and integrity are the types of things that parents are supposed to teach first and foremost to their children, but that can't be true here since it's the shame-less parents themselves who are liars and thieves by falsifying official paperwork so their kids can attend OPRF for free (while sticking the costs to the taxpayers of OPRF). Doing things like this (lying and/or stealing to get whatever you want) is the worst example any parent can set for their kid and it contradicts what the teachers try to install into the children every day, sometimes to no avail. So that being said, what is the next crime/sin/wrongdoing to be tolerated by OPRF..... how 'bout cheating on tests?

Chi Lisa from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2018 2:20 PM

This is done EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. Not just freshmen year. Every year, the same root canal.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2018 8:44 AM

The process involves screening only of freshmen? And we will never know how many people are successful and are not caught, but it has to be as many as are caught especially if they are not screening the other 75% of the school population. The 245 who were caught would have been an extra 7% enrollment. The dollar cost of this problem and the same abuses at District 97 are very likely the key reason property taxes keep going up. Having to fund an extra 10 classrooms worth of non-Oak Park residents with 10 teacher salaries, classroom space, equipment, 1 or 2 extra admin salaries and so on is a huge expense.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 25th, 2018 5:00 PM

@ Tom Mac: Except for the pool.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2018 4:40 PM

It seems that the "gap" is not keeping everyone around Oak Park from desperately trying to send their kids to school here. OPRF must not be that bad of a place.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2018

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2018 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Latest Comments