LIVINGSTON — High test scores and shrinking budgets have led to an increase in students from outside Livingston Parish attempting to enroll in parish schools, officials said.
“It’s one of the biggest problems we have had this year,” said Ed Foster, the system’s supervisor of child welfare and attendance. “Parents are trying to do anything to get their children into Livingston Parish schools.”
Foster, who investigates questionable enrollments, said the parish is seeing an influx of students from East Baton Rouge, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes.
“Only a very small few come from Ascension Parish,” he said. “That’s not the case with students from those others.”
The Livingston Parish school system has become more desirable to parents because the district has ranked in the top 10 in state school rankings and the district consistently scores higher in state tests than East Baton Rouge, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parish schools.
At the same time, the three surrounding districts have had to make significant cuts to their budgets.
In order to get their children into a Livingston Parish school, parents often try to voluntarily give custody of their children to someone who lives within the parish, Foster said.
The school system cannot accept any transfer of custody that has occurred for “educational purposes,” Superintendent Bill Spear said.
“A judge has to determine guardianship for a particular reason, and that reason cannot be for educational purposes,” Spear said.
Even if the two parties are in agreement about the custody transfer, the student would be denied enrollment, Spear said.
The rule comes from a 2001 settlement in the system’s desegregation case, Foster said.
Other parents have filed false residency affidavits, Foster said.
“They allege that they (the children) live with someone else and attempt to show proof of that,” he said.
Foster recounted one story where he and another school official went to a house where four children and their mother were allegedly living with a grandmother. They found no evidence that the children were living in the house.
They denied the children enrollment, Foster said.
To dissuade parents from filling out false residency claims, the Livingston Parish school system now includes a letter with all residency affidavit forms that warns parents of the penalties of providing false information.
“Recent court cases have resulted in parents being jailed and fined up to $30,000 for providing false information on residency documents,” the letter says.
“Every year, we work on verifying these types of residency affidavits,” Foster said.
School officials usually find about 20-30 false affidavits per year, Foster said.
Many of the fleeing students are coming from St. Helena Parish, Foster said.
In another case from that parish, parents demanded to be allowed to enroll their children in Livingston Parish schools because they said St. Helena schools “were failing,” he said.
Enforcement has been stepped up this year, Foster said.
“We are pursuing information and evaluation of these things much more seriously than we ever have,” he said. “It’s a fiscal issue in addition to a legal issue.”
School Board members were forced to trim $10 million from the district’s 2011-2012 budget.
“We are pretty vigilant every year,” Spear said. “Because of the budget, we will continue to be vigilant.”