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A call to block outside students

Superintendent vows crackdown

The superintendent of Marlborough's school district wants to crack down on students who attend its schools but do not live in the city.

Superintendent Barbara McGann, who started in the fall after serving as an assistant superintendent in Boston, said she thinks the district should be asking for better proof of residency.

"In the past we've asked for, in my opinion, very little proof -- a utility bill or something along those lines," she said. "We are going to be implementing a new procedure to require many forms of proof."

McGann said she does not yet know exactly what documents will be required but the list could include an income tax return or a lease agreement.

"Sometimes people are willing to do anything to get what they want for their kids," she said. "We do have good schools and wonderful sports and music, so sometimes individuals from outlying areas want to take advantage of that."

Area communities vary widely in their policies on proof of residency. Newton, for example, has strict written guidelines that require new homeowners to show an executed purchase and sale agreement with a closing date and an actual move-in date up to four weeks later. The school district also makes home visits in some cases.

Wellesley does not have a written policy but does ask for a purchase and sale agreement or rental contract in the case of new students, said Judy Ferretti, the registrar at Wellesley High School. There are no staff hours devoted to double-checking residency, she said, and it isn't seen as a problem.

"Occasionally, there may be somebody who's living with another family, but in most cases they're here legitimately," said Ferretti.

Boston is much more strict, due to interest by out-of-town residents in getting their children into high-performing schools such as Boston Latin. And that is the model McGann knows best. She is planning to set up a central registrar so proof of residency is not handled on a school-by-school basis. McGann hopes to hire a private verification service to handle the double-checking of residency status.

McGann said she wants to get the changes approved by the School Committee as soon as possible so they can go into effect when the new school year starts in September.

There are no records on how many nonresident students attend Marlborough schools, but McGann estimated it could be about 5 percent of its school population.

Although the School Committee has not reviewed the superintendent's proposal, member Joe Delano said he is all for a stricter policy.

"I don't think it's fair for the Marlborough taxpayers to pick up the tab for people who aren't legal residents in the city," he said. "It's fairly well known that people who don't live here go to school here."

He said from a financial standpoint, educating a small number of students in the system who should not be there does not make much difference -- unless they have special needs.

"We have high-quality special education programs," said Delano. "You want to provide great programs but if people are moving in, the expense is just tremendous, and the state doesn't pick up as much as they should. Some of these children have such great needs."

McGann said the changes are not aimed at illegal immigrants. Schools are not allowed to ask about citizenship status.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said he would be concerned if the district relied solely on income tax returns, which could be hard to produce for low-income residents as well as illegal immigrants.

"To require only one document to prove residence really would just be an obstacle for low-income students across the board," Noorani said.

"If Marlborough wants to go down this path they need to provide a menu of documents, which is what Boston does."

Another School Committee member said she would reserve judgment until she sees McGann's specific proposals.

Katie Robey said she does not want any new policy to be too burdensome for parents.

"It's not huge numbers," she said. "We don't need to make people think there's this huge overcrowding in the system."

Lisa Kocian can be reached at 508-820-4231 or at