Request for firm to check residency in District 161 falls short

Flossmoor School District 161 school board members this week failed to approve the proposed hiring of a firm to verify the residency of students and improve the registration process.

The board voted three-to-three on the administration’s recommendation. Voting for the recommendation were Stephen Paredes, Christine Marks and John Simmons.  Voting against the motion were Michelle Hoereth, Merle Huckabee and Timijanel Boyd Odom. Lisa Harrell was absent from the April 10 meeting.

The deadlocked vote came after a detailed description by Frances LaBella, associate superintendent of business operations, on services that would be rendered by National Investigations, Inc.

LaBella said the firm is a licensed and fully insured investigative agency specializing in residency investigations. She said the firm utilizes a proprietary database system that would update nightly information about parents’ compliance with the district's residency requirements.

The database system would include information from three credit bureaus, the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles, the Illinois courts system and information from the U.S. Postal Service database.

LaBella said National Investigations would not gather personal financial information from the credit bureaus, but would include information such as where bills are being mailed.

She also described how the updates of the database would ultimately create two lists, a “green” list of those families whose residency has been verified and a “red” list of those whose residency is questioned.

She also stated the system would be monitoring currently enrolled students by running all names and addresses through the database on a quarterly basis. Any students on the red list would be investigated. If families were found to have moved out of the district, the students would have to withdraw at the end of the school year.

LaBella said the system would save the district many “man hours of work” and would be an improvement over how residency is presently verified.

Interim Superintendent Michael Popp said the hiring of the firm would “streamline the registration process.” Marks said contracting with National Investigations should be a “no-brainer,” but other board members disagreed.

Huckabee was concerned about the involvement of credit bureaus.

“That sounds ambiguous to me,” Huckabee said. “Often people have challenges to the credit bureaus about their bills. Something is wrong with the need to include this.”

The board also had a spirited discussion when presented with a first reading of the policy dealing with the waiver of student fees. Board members disagreed on how students, whose parents have not paid fees, would be impacted by the policy.

The discussion focused on whether these students could continue to participate in non-curricular activities and field trips. The effect on participation in graduation exercises at Parker Junior High was also discussed.

“I want to see more information,” Hoereth said.

Popp said the policy will be revisited later.

The board found common ground when presented with details about how summer school - the Summer Academy – will be operated this year from June 19 through July 27.

Haley Marti, summer school principal, said Summer Academy will include on-site and virtual learning and is open to anyone.

Classes will be differentiated by the level of the participating students. Marti said it’s recommended that students should enroll in the academy if they are at the 35th-percentile or lower on Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), if recommended by teachers and if they are failing.

Marti explained that the summer classroom curriculum will include both a “Lit Camp” for English instruction and “Math Adventures.”

An online Virtual Summer Academy will also be offered. This will focus on personalized learning and goal setting involving Achieve3000 for reading and writing and Khan Academy for math.

She described how parents will soon receive Summer Academy information through email and telephone blasts and flyers. Parents of students recommended for the Summer Academy will also receive a letter. Registration will be online. 

Some board members expressed concern whether the summer math curriculum will be compatible with the new mathematics pilot curriculum being tested in the district. Amabel Crawford, director of learning and instruction, said it will be compatible but the Summer Academy primarily focuses on helping students who have fallen behind.

Popp announced the scheduling of two upcoming special meetings of the board.

On April 24 the Committee of the Whole meeting will be a regular session. Popp said it is expected that a new principal for Parker Junior High School will be hired then.

Since January, the district has been working with BWP and Associates to find a new Parker principal. The search firm also assisted in the hiring on March 13 of Dana Smith as the new superintendent. Smith will officially start on July 1.

Vickie Person has been serving as interim principal at Parker since Sept. 19. She replaced David Kennedy who resigned on Aug. 23 three days after being placed on administrative leave.

Also, a special meeting is slated for May 1 when the current board will be “closed out” and the three newly elected members will be seated and the board will be reconstituted.

Misha Blackman, Carolyn Griggs and Cameron Nelson, the three newly elected members, and re-elected board member Parades, will join board members Hoereth, Huckabee and Simmons.

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