Residency questions raised at Blue Ridge

BY STACI WILSON

The Blue Ridge School District is considering hiring an investigator to verify the residency of some students.

Superintendent Robert McTiernan told the board at the Monday night workshop meeting that there are over one dozen students attending Blue Ridge with “residency affidavit.”

McTiernan explained that a “1302 residency affidavit” is placed on file when a student is being housed by a resident of the district, other than a parent or guardian. “There are some that need looking into,” he said.
The superintendent asked for board member input before moving forward with engaging an investigator.

He said the district is unnecessarily incurring the cost for educating students who are not actually residing in the school district and that the cost per student varies on the individual’s educational needs.

Several board members voiced concerns about the students that could potentially be affected.

“I don’t want to throw a student to the wind,” Board member Shane Rumage said.

McTiernan said the students, if found to not be residing in the district, could remain at Blue Ridge by paying the tuition. The student could also attend the school district in which he or she resides. “It’s about where they lay their head at night,” he said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Board member Christina Whitney. “They’re not paying our taxes. They don’t belong here. They evade our taxes but get our education.”

Board President Laurie Bonner said she thought students were being used as “pawns.”

“Our obligation is to our taxpayers. Pay the tuition and come,” she said.
The board was reminded that children of employees were exempt from the 1302 affidavit requirement. Several years ago, the board voted to allow children of staff members to attend Blue Ridge.

Several on the board thought – that if handled incorrectly – the process could lead to legal issues for the district.

Bonner said the district could look at situations on a “case-by-case basis.”
The board also took issue with recent reports about the natural gas distribution service in the New Milford area.

Board member and facilities and grounds committee chair Harold Empett said the district has been up front with Leatherstocking Gas Company.

“We support it 110 percent,” he said, “but they can’t beat our wood prices.”
Empett added, “For us right now, it’s not economically feasible.”

The primary source for heat at the district campus is wood chips. Oil is used as a secondary heating source.

Whitney and Empett – who both represent New Milford Borough – said they had been hearing from their constituents. Whitney told the board that a letter from the borough included in the local municipal bills said the school district refused to do business with Leatherstocking.

Leatherstocking had reported to New Milford Borough that at this time the company did not plan to run gas service to the school. The borough has been actively pursuing bringing gas service to its residents and, with the absence of a large anchor customer, would require a number of households to commit to converting to natural gas.

Rumage said that although the school could use natural gas, “We would not do it on a scale they’re looking for.”

Whitney said the savings seen by borough residents would be eaten up by district tax increases necessary to pay for the conversion and use of natural gas.

Board members also discussed the cost for converting its existing equipment to run on natural gas. But a full conversion – moving from wood to gas – is “upside down,” McTiernan said. “It will never pay for itself.”

The board also discussed whether the members thought it was necessary to create a “cold weather policy” or leave delays and cancellations based upon extreme cold to the discretion of the superintendent.

Several board members expressed concern for the safety of the students, as well as noting issues with transportation.