Four-month independent study supports both policy and questions about a specific case
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) said Tuesday its independent investigation of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District’s handling of residency issues revealed that the district acted in good faith and in a manner consistent with state law.
The outside review of the residency policy and its enforcement, following the resignation of board member Holly Manzone in October, 2013, after she claimed the district was not enforcing its own policy and allowing children who did not truly live in the district to attend district schools.
“The existing residency policy is sound,” concluded Dr. Joseph J. O’Brien, CCIU executive director, following a four-month review process that included cost data analysis, interviews with the superintendent and board members, including Manzone, and an examination of UCFSD’s and 14 other suburban school districts’ residency practices.
District officials thanked the CCIU for the independent review, which can be read here.
“The board wants to thank the CCIU for conducting this independent review,” said UCFSD Board of Education President Victor Dupuis Tuesday. “Our aim all along has been to make sure we follow the law and do the right thing for taxpayers and students. It is reassuring to hear that everyone acted in good faith and that we now have the right policies and procedures in place.”
Dupuis also said he felt the report vindicated the administration and majority of the board’s position that the matter had been handled properly.
“I want to underscore the point made in the report that our superintendent did everything right,” Dupuis said. “He followed policy, acted aggressively, fully investigated and took appropriate action. No deals were made with this superintendent or board. This should put to rest any uncertainty.”
UCFSD Superintendent Dr. John Sanville inherited the issue when he was became superintendent on Sept. 1, 2011 — an issue that had been ongoing through a number of administration teams dating back to 2004. The case involved a complicated issue with a family that owned property in the district and had established residency there, but also owned property in a neighboring community. students attending UCFSD schools. Some alleged that Sanville had made a deal with the family in question, a charge he strongly denied at the time. Sources close to the district at the time suggested the matter was far from a cut and dried situation because of the residence in the district and the potential to create issues with numerous other families, especially those in divorced families with joint custody and one parent living in the district and one living outside of it.
After much public controversy — and comments on The Times’ comment boards — in Feb. 2014, Sanville asked the CCIU in February of 2014 to undertake an outside review of the review case, and UCFSD residency policies and practices as a whole.
Regarding the specific residency case, the investigation determined that Sanville had not made a deal with the family.
“There was no deal made by Dr. Sanville and/or the UCFSD Board with the family in question,” concluded Dr. O’Brien. “Dr. Sanville inherited this residency case from the previous administrative team – and he was the first superintendent to move on the family in question. He was motivated to do so by the good intentions of Dr. Manzone to bring this issue to the attention of the Board and administration.”
In terms of the broader residency policy, the CCIU report backed the current policy and current administrative guidelines, but suggested that the residency point person for such issues should be the district’s Director of Business and Operations, Robert Cochran, as it his job to, as the CCIU statement put it, “to protect and conserve the district’s resources.”
O’Brien praised the district and board for being willing to look closely at its policies in this area and update them as needed.
“The Unionville-Chadds Ford Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of their residency policies and procedures – making sound changes to the existing policies and procedures – and even implementing whole new policies to supersede the old policies,” said Dr. O’Brien.
The report also looked at the costs of residency investigations and found that UCFSD was in line, if not lower than neighboring districts.
Over a three-year period, the CCIU said, the district spent about $37,805 on student residency issues, while per pupil cost of services in UCFSD is more than $18,700. The CCIU compared that number with 14 other districts in Chester and Delaware counties, and the report concludes UCFSD spends an appropriate amount of money and time on student residency issues.
“The specific reputation of UCFSD is truly world class – and this is the school district of choice for many people,” O’Brien said. “Unfortunately, such a quality school district can become very attractive to non-residents who live in nearby areas, and the school district must assume the burden of ensuring that taxpayers of Unionville-Chadds Ford do not pay for the educational program of non-residents.”