Are entrants in Ajo schools?
May 26, 2005
Official says yes, criticizes county for lack of action
By Lourdes Medrano
wants the Ajo students' residency status to be verified.
The state's top school official said Wednesday that
students who live in Mexico regularly attend public schools in Ajo at the
expense of Arizona taxpayers and that Pima County's school superintendent
has refused his request to investigate the matter.
That refusal could result in a challenge of future per-pupil
funding requests, said state schools superintendent Tom Horne
Horne said the allegations first raised a year ago in news
reports were confirmed by a private investigator he sent to the border. The
investigator videotaped students walking across the Lukeville border and
boarding a nearby school bus.
Horne also said a Lukeville trailer-park employee admitted
giving utility receipts to Mexican students - who were not residents - that
the Pima County School Superintendent's Office accepted as proof of
While federal law mandates a public education for all
students regardless of their legal status, school districts require evidence
that they live within its boundaries.
Horne said Pima County Schools Superintendent Linda
Arzoumanian declined to investigate further, and Ajo Unified School District
Superintendent Robert Dooley has yet to respond.
Should Arzoumanian or Dooley fail to take action, Horne said
he may challenge schools' requests for per-pupil funding, an annual
allotment which is currently set at $5,000 per student.
"We're not asking for any students to be taken out of
school," he said. "We're just asking that they start making home visits next
year to confirm residency."
Arzoumanian said she has no plans to do so because she must
apply the same school criteria to all students, not just one group.
She said discriminating against students based on
citizenship, race or national origin is unconstitutional - and because
address checks aren't common practice - she hesitates to focus on
border-area students of apparent Mexican heritage.
"It's not within my right to do an investigation," she said.
If, as in the Ajo schools, students provide the rent and
utility receipts, or guardianship documents that they need to prove they
live in the district, then they are eligible to attend public schools.
"I'm not sure that any (students from Mexico ) are attending.
… There's no way to know," she said.
In a letter to Horne on Wednesday, Arzoumanian reiterates
that the matter be turned over to the Arizona Attorney General's Office for
a legal opinion.
Susan Seagal, the attorney general's chief counsel for
education and health, said her office has not yet received any evidence of a
crime, such as the trailer-park utility receipts.
"We have to see it first," before deciding whether to
investigate, she said.
Ultimately, Seagal noted, it is the responsibility of the
Pima County Superintendent's Office and the Ajo school district to determine
if students are ineligible to attend school.
Dooley, the Ajo superintendent, couldn't be reached for
comment. But other Arizona educators said border schools have been grappling
with the problem for years.
Superintendent Kelt Cooper of the Nogales Unified School
District said that after Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of students were
noticeably absent for days. Increased border enforcement had kept them from
A red flag went up, Cooper said, and administrators
determined that most of them lived in Nogales, Sonora. They were withdrawn
from the district.
"That's a reality on the border," he said. "Do I think it's
going to stop? No."
Cooper said many school administrators turn a blind eye
because cracking down on the students would mean lost revenue.
That's not the case in Nogales. Cooper said his district has
various mechanisms in place to verify students' addresses regularly,
including knocking on doors.
Cooper said he personally has gone to students' homes and
asked to see their rooms.
"If you don't live in my district, then you have to pay
tuition," he said, referring to Sonoran students.
The Yuma Union High School District also takes extra
precautions to keep students who live south of the border from illegally
Gerrick Monroe, assistant superintendent for the district,
said a full-time attendance monitor each morning stands at the border to jot
down the names of students crossing the border. Later in the day, the
monitor verifies addresses and makes home visits.
Monroe said the border crossers include students who pay more
than $5,000 in tuition to attend district schools, as well as others who
have legitimate reasons for going back and forth across the border.
But as the school year wears on, he said, the number of
students on the monitor's list decreases significantly.
Monroe said the practice has been in place several years and
has garnered much public support from district taxpayers.
"It's important that we do everything we can legally do to
ensure that tax dollars are being used by people who have a right to use
them," he said.