After receiving anonymous phone calls, 13 students in Guttenberg’s only school were found to be non-residents and were told not to come back in September, said Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ramos.
The tiny town of Guttenberg has only one elementary school, the Anna L. Klein School. Older children attend North Bergen High School.
Three families made up the majority of the students that the district was informed about, Ramos said.
He said that in the beginning of every school year, parents are asked to fill out contracts confirming their current address in town.
When the anonymous phone calls were received, Vice Principal Joseph Forenza investigated the matter and found that the students had in fact moved out of the district, Ramos said.
The Hudson Reporter was made aware of the situation by an anonymous phone call.
“We do not have the capacity to go out and knock on everybody’s door to check if their kids live there,” said Ramos, who explained there are close to 1,000 children at the Klein School.
A thorny issue
Students often will attend a neighboring district’s public school if it is in a better area than their hometown, or if they have moved out of town but don’t want to disrupt their education.
In many districts, the students can remain enrolled as long as they pay tuition. But most parents do not want to pay if they can avoid it.
“I don’t think the parents see that they’re living in a different municipality.” – Joseph Ramos
Guttenberg is only a few blocks away from West New York, Union City, and North Bergen. Ramos said that some parents have immigrated to the area from other countries and may not understand the process of re-enrolling when they are only moving a few blocks away.
“I don’t think the parents see that they’re living in a different municipality,” said Ramos. “They move from one district to another [and they may not understand] that their kids have to go to that school in that district and the ramifications of tuition.”
He said the issue is made more difficult because many children are living with multiple families in the same dwelling, so that it is hard to determine “who is living where.”
Last marking period
Ramos said that the 13 students were not removed before the end of this year because Board of Education policy prohibits schools from transferring students during the last marking period of the year. This is partially due to the testing for seventh and eighth graders that was completed two weeks ago, and the fifth and sixth grade state testing this past week.
If the students had been found to be non-residents during any other marking period, they would have been transferred immediately, Ramos said.
Ramifications of aid
Guttenberg has a $14 million school budget, partly paid for by $8.7 million in taxes. That amount is up 2 percent, or $158,000 from last year.
While the school board approved the budget, the public voted no on the budget referendum during last month’s school board election. That means it’s up to the Town Council to modify and approve a district budget at their special public meeting on May 18.
Guttenberg received a total of $4.7 million in state aid this year, up slightly over last year’s $4.6 million.
Ramos said that this year’s budget will not be affected by the removal of the 13 students, because the district’s aid was determined based on their Oct. 15 enrollment numbers.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.