The Proviso Township High Schools District 209 Board of Education recently voted to bring back a resident investigations firm, whose previous contract with the district had been terminated in 2012.
During a June 18 special meeting, the board voted 4-1 in favor of an agreement with National Investigations, Inc., a firm based in southwest suburban Channahon, that will conduct residency investigations of D209 students suspected of living out-of-district.
Board member Della Patterson voted against the agreement while Theresa Kelly, the board's vice-president, abstained. Kelly did not respond to an interview request about why she abstained. Member Sam Valtierrez was absent.
The firm's bid was lower than Walden Investigative Group LLC's. National charges $2 per family for database searches and $45 an hour for general work. Walden did not specify its charges for database searches and has a rate of $80 an hour. State law requires school districts to accept the lowest responsive bidder. The agreement with National Investigations is only for the 2019-20 school year.
Patterson said that, while she believes that there are students who attend D209 schools, particularly Proviso East, who don't live in the district, she didn't agree with hiring National Investigations, Inc.
"Why would we bring someone back that didn't get the job done? This is the same company," Patterson said in an interview on July 15. "I was not on a board member when National Investigations was in the district, but I was that person in the community on the opposite side and I do know they were terminated, because we did not get results."
But D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez and board member Rodney Alexander, who chairs the Parent and Community Engagement Committee—the group that came up with the idea to hire a firm to conduct residency investigations—said there are several factors that will distinguish National Investigations' prior tenure from this upcoming time in the district.
"The issue with the company back then was that the district was paying them a flat fee whether they did anything or not," said Alexander, who was not on the board during National Investigation's prior tenure. "If we have a student who meets the criteria, we will pay them for that one student that one time. It's not necessarily who you use, but it's the management and supervision of those partners. If we're monitoring and making sure the law is being followed, then that's on us."
Rodriguez said that the district budgeted around $35,000 for residency investigation services, but "we're only going to use whatever we need. We might not use all of that."
Rodriguez added that D209 administrators are typically able to handle most residency concerns by following a range of procedures that they have at hand, such as correcting address information that's on file. He said that National Investigations' services will only be needed if administrators cannot verify a student's residency — an occurrence he suspects could be rare.
In that case, National Investigations may conduct in-person investigations, database searches and surveillance at various public transportation locations, in order to determine a student's actual residence.
Alexander said that hiring National Investigations is part of a more comprehensive attempt to "make sure that we, as a board, are crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's, as it relates to financial responsibility, being accountable to taxpayer dollars, and making sure our students are attending school safely and with other students who are supposed to be there. The district has a history of students coming from other places, primarily from the West Side of Chicago."
"All you have to do is go to the Blue Line and watch them get on and watch them get off," Patterson said.
Currently, the district doesn't maintain statistics on the number of students who may be suspected of living out-of-district. Retrieving the data is a tall order, and ensuring that it's sufficiently protected and used lawfully is even more complicated, he said.
"It's a lot deeper than people think," explained Patterson. "It's not just a matter of knocking on kids' doors."
District officials explained that, despite the recent hiring of National Investigations, they're still cognizant of the need to protect the sensitive personal information of students from immigrant families. Rodriguez said that the legally binding contract the district has with National Investigations states that information cannot be shared with a third party.
"The information will be protected and it will only be between the district and the company," he said.
On July 15, in response to federal government launching targeted deportation raids last week, the district released a resolution reaffirming its status as a welcoming and safe district, and vowed to provide "resources to principals, students and families on how to prepare when [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detains and deports members of the immigrant community," among other resources.
"We do understand that in order for students to learn, they have to feel safe," D209 board President Ned Wagner said in the statement.