Hold up: Bill aimed to toughen residency rules for Louisiana school attendance now shelved _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Central schools superintendent Michael Faulk. The East Baton Rouge school system is relaunching its online program to try to attract more students to the school system and compete with the state’s two big online charter schools, and Central is one of several districts that have already done this, with its Central Virtual Opportunities School.

After a flap in the Central Community School District, a bid to toughen residency rules was shelved Wednesday and may be finished for the session.

“We have some work to do,” said state Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central and sponsor of the stalled bill.

Ivey asked that his proposal, House Bill 675, be set aside amid criticism that backers wanted to needlessly redefine residency rules for students to attend public schools, in this case the highly-rated Central school system.

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the district, said the local board believes a change in state law is needed to allow officials to better judge whether families actually live in the district.

Faulk said the school system has had cases where families claiming to be residents showed a utility bill or other documents while claiming a homestead exemption in another parish.

“I have spoken with other school districts that have experienced similar problems,” said Faulk, former president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

Under Ivey’s bill, parents or guardians enrolling students would have to provide proof of domicile, which the legislation said means “a person’s principal or habitual place of residence.”

Asked why families would go to such lengths, Faulk said, “Because we are a good school system.”

Ivey said the district has had to increase taxes because of growing enrollment.

“If things continue, we may have to put another issue on the ballot,” he said.

However, members of the House Education Committee repeatedly pressed Faulk and Ivey on why local officials did not simply tighten residency rules in their policies.

“I’m just struggling with the need to redefine domicile,” said state Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, a member of the committee and an attorney.

“You lost a lawsuit so you want to redefine what domicile means,” Leger said.

Last year 19th Judicial District Court Judge Todd Hernandez, of Baton Rouge, sided with a family whose daughter was kicked out of Central High because district officials said she was not living in Central.

The family said it has lived in Central for decades.

The district is not appealing the ruling.

Earlier this year, the family made a $750,000 settlement offer to the school district.

Central has previously tightened its residency rules.

House Education Committee Chairwoman Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, a family law counselor, said she was concerned about tampering with the definition of domicile and potential conflicts with the state’s civil code.

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