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The Charles County school board thinks “outright lies” by out-of-district parents warrants state legislation requiring parents to acknowledge criminal penalties for fraudulently enrolling a child in county schools.

The Charles County Board of Education met Dec. 13 with members of the Charles County delegation to the General Assembly for a powwow on a variety of topics ranging from funding issues to residency affidavits for students in county schools.

Superintendent of Schools Kimberly Hill said the three big areas of concern for county schools are local autonomy for the board, having an adequate budget and state funding of new and existing mandates.

The residency affidavit was one of the biggest points of discussion among those present. Board staff attorney Eric Schwartz said they would like to see a system in which once a student is enrolled in the system, the parents sign a paper acknowledging the criminal penalties for lying about where the children are zoned to attend school.

“This board of education spends an awful lot of time on appeals because of outright lies,” Board of Education Chairwoman Roberta S. Wise said. “To us, it’s really important that this get through.”

Hill said the board has seen “a lot of pushback” regarding overcrowding in schools and felt more stringent measures to ensure that everyone is in their right place would be beneficial in ending the problem.

“This is really going to help us add some teeth,” Hill said.

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton asked how many children had been found to be in the wrong school through compliance checks. More than 100 were found last year, Director of Student Services Pat Vaira said.

“We still continue to get tips every so often,” Vaira said. “There’s a lot of things that are very time-consuming that we do.”

The kids in question are not just from Prince George’s County but also come from Washington, D.C., Virginia and other school districts in the county.

Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles) said in regard to the affidavit that he would like to see more of a collaboration with the county’s Circuit Court judges before allowing anything to go forward.

From there, the conversation shifted toward a discussion regarding the possibility of prekindergarten expansion. Earlier in the meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Supporting Services Keith Hettel said a study soon would be underway to assess the structural needs in different facilities, and this could help determine the probability of universal pre-K in county public schools. Currently, 920 students are enrolled in the unfunded program.

Del. Sally Y. Jameson questioned if pre-K would provide the level playing field the educators asserted it would.

“At some point you have to understand we just can’t keep adding another year,” Jameson (D-Charles) said.

Hill said if the capacity were there, the implementation would be much easier to facilitate. Middleton suggested that a study to determine the program’s effectiveness might help.

Hettel said Charles County is the only county in the state that currently does not have any renovation projects going on within school walls. With the construction of St. Charles High School, the county’s need for new buildings will be sated for the time, Hettel said, and now is the time to shift toward modifying existing structures.

“We’ve been spending all of our time on new buildings,” Wise said. “It wasn’t our fault that wasn’t there. We needed it for the population.”

“The nice thing about these big renovations is they give us the chance to address new programs,” Hill said.

Hill also expressed concern about a piece of legislation that would make it more difficult for schools to suspend students with behavior problems.

“There comes a time when we need the authority to suspend, and I think these regulations address other jurisdictions,” Hill said. “We are very careful when we suspend. Our hands will be tied.”

lrenner@somdnews.com