Children from five families have been booted from the Braintree public school system after officials discovered they did not actually live in town.
The expulsions, which took place over the course of the current academic year, are part of an ongoing effort to keep nonresident students whose parents or guardians do not pay municipal taxes from attending Braintree’s overcrowded schools.
“We’re serious about making sure that those who are in our classrooms are true Braintree residents,” Mayor Joseph Sullivan said in an interview. “If a student doesn’t properly live in Braintree, they shouldn’t be allowed to attend Braintree schools. It’s very simple.”
Sullivan said he regretted that the students would suffer the consequences of their guardians’ dishonesty, but insisted the town had to act out of fairness to its taxpayers and to deter other families from attempting to game the school system.
So far this school year, school and police officials have investigated the residency status of 21 families with 26 children in Braintree’s schools. Eight families were found to be living in other towns, but students from three of those families were allowed to remain enrolled because they were seniors approaching graduation or had other special circumstances, Sullivan said.
Braintree public schools typically expel students from between 10 and 20 non-resident families each year, Superintendent Maureen S. Murray said. The schools transfer academic records and assist the families in enrolling their children in the municipality where they actually reside.
Upon enrollment, families must provide the school system with proof of residency, such as a current utility bill bearing their Braintree address. Murray said the non-resident families were not necessarily doctoring such documents, but might instead provide the address of a family member or non-custodial parent who lived in Braintree. Students are required to sleep at an address in Braintree for four school nights per week to qualify as residents.
Most of the non-resident families were investigated after school or town officials received anonymous tips from parents and guardians of other students, Sullivan said. In some cases, tipsters became suspicious because they noticed unfamiliar children being dropped off at bus stops.
“When it’s brought to our attention, we’re compelled to follow up,” Murray said. “We’re not going after and looking for people.”
A school staff member who monitors attendance and two school resource officers from the Braintree Police Department investigate claims of non-residency, Sullivan and Murray said. The investigations typically consist of visits to the address provided by families when they enroll their children, where the officers speak with residents and look for evidence the family actually resides there.
“This isn’t intended to be . . . a witch hunt,” Sullivan said. “It’s a fairness issue for those who live in town and are playing by rules, and it’s also an attempt at managing our class sizes.”
Braintree’s schools, particularly its elementary schools, have been trying for several years to improve student-to-teacher ratios. In the 2012-2013 school year, 5,549 students were enrolled in Braintree’s six elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school, according to federal filings. The district’s overall student-to-teacher ratio was 14.1 to 1, while the state average was 13.5 to 1.
In an effort to free up space, a new kindergarten center is slated to open in September at the town’s Monatiquot School. But renovating and operating the new center will strain the school budget, and students whose guardians do not pay taxes into town coffers add to the strain, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Braintree spends about $13,000 annually on each student in its schools.
‘This is . . . a fairness issue for those who live in town and are playing by rules.’
Murray admitted that asking families to leave the schools can be uncomfortable for service-minded educators, but insisted it was necessary.
“We went into this business because we wanted to improve opportunities for children,” she said. “This is not one of my favorite parts of the job, but the important thing to remember is that we are here to serve the children of Braintree. . . . We consider ourselves stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”Dan Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.