40 Leopold students enrolled illegally

Thursday, April 19, 2007

LEOPOLD, Mo. -- Forty students in the tiny Leopold School District -- about a fifth of total enrollment -- live outside the district and are enrolled illegally, school and state education officials said Wednesday.

Within three years, that could lead to the loss of an estimated $183,882 annually in state funding for the rural school district, state education officials say. The estimate of lost revenue is based on state funding of $4,597 per student on the basis of average daily attendance.

"When you're talking about a district that size, $183,000 is a pretty good hit," said Tom Quinn, director of school governance for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

DESE received an anonymous letter in February and another in March alleging that students were illegally enrolled in the school district. After receiving the first complaint, Quinn asked Leopold superintendent Derek Urhahn to investigate.

Urhahn reported the results to DESE last week, Quinn said.

Most of the out-of-district students live in the Woodland School District. The remainder live in the Delta School District, Urhahn said. The superintendents of those two districts couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. Urhahn said school officials mistakenly believed the students lived in the Leopold district.

Quinn said Leopold has the largest percentage of illegally enrolled students of any school district he has dealt with.

The district will have to correct the situation, but DESE won't penalize it, he said. The department doesn't seek punishment unless there's evidence that school officials knowingly listed out-of-district students as resident students, he said.

Like other school districts, the Leopold School District will receive state funding next school year based on this year's enrollment and attendance figures. As a result, the district will receive state funding for those 40 students even though state aid is based on resident-student enrollment.

Leopold School District could receive state funding for those 40 students for the next two years, Quinn said. The state's funding procedures were set up to cushion a school district financially in the event of a massive and sudden decline in enrollment, he said, although they were not devised with a situation like the one in Leopold in mind.

The Leopold school system also could benefit financially from any out-of-district tuition that those students would pay, Quinn said. Leopold's out-of-district tuition currently is set at $3,500 annually. No students are paying tuition in the district this school year, state education officials said. The district has yet to set tuition for the next school year.

Quinn said he understands that to the public "it doesn't seem right" for the Leopold school system to receive state funding for nonresident students. But he said the Leopold School District is being treated like any other district when it comes to calculating state aid.

Urhahn said school officials recently met with the nonresident families to explain the options available to them to come in compliance with state law. The students will have to pay out-of-district tuition, transfer to the school district in which they live after the end of the current school year or move into the Leopold district, Urhahn said.

He believes most if not all of the families will keep their children in the Leopold school system. "The parents would like for their sons or daughters to complete their education here," Urhahn said.

In addition to the overall residency issue, Urhahn said he investigated a complaint made to the Missouri State High School Activities Association alleging that a female student at Leopold lives outside the district and is ineligible to play sports.

Urhahn said the student athlete is one of the 40 students who live outside the district. But he said she attended school in the district years before she started participating in sports. As such, she meets MSHSAA requirements that a student be enrolled in a district at least 365 days before being eligible to play high school sports, Urhahn said.

The superintendent's brother, Kerwin Urhahn, heads the activities association. Kerwin Urhahn notified his brother of the allegation last month. But since it was an unsigned complaint, the association director said MSHSAA would take no further action.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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