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Oak Park school officials say probe led to residency charge against family

Maurice Carter poses for photograph outside his home 600 block South Blvd. Tuesday June 7 2011 Oak Park. Carter has

Maurice Carter poses for a photograph outside his home on the 600 block of South Blvd. Tuesday, June 7, 2011, in Oak Park. Carter has lived in his apartment since 2006 and sent his two children to Oak Park-River Forest High School, but the school district claims he did not reside in Oak Park during the 2009-2010 school year and has subsequently sued Carter for out-of-district tuition fees for his children. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 3, 2011 5:35PM

Oak Park River Forest High School District 200 officials conducted a residency “investigation” before slapping the parents of two students with a $30,000-plus bill — tuition for students who don’t reside in the district.

That’s what a district spokesperson told the Sun-Times after the newspaper reported that school officials filed a lawsuit against Maurice Carter and his wife Terri Shaw Carter this week. The suit alleges the family wasn’t living in the Oak Park condo they owned, but rather were living in Chicago.

The parents are being asked to pony up $30,504.18 in out-of-district tuition. That’s roughly $15,000 apiece for the Carters’ two children who were enrolled during the 2009-2010 school year, the period investigated by the district.

“The evidence from the investigation — which included observation and other means — shows clearly the family is not residing in the district,” said Katherine Foran, a school district spokeswoman.

The Carters’ son, a senior that year who had attended all four years at the high school, was not able to attend commencement ceremonies or obtain his official transcripts — the latter needed to apply for college, his parents say. And their daughter, a sophomore, wasn’t allowed to return because of the residency dispute, they said.

The Carters say they don’t have the money, and they shouldn’t have to pay: They say they live in the condo they’ve owned since 2006, and they’re paying the property tax bills that pay for the local schools.

Cook County property tax records list Terri Shaw Carter as the owner.

The Carters said they tried to fight the school district’s claims, providing property tax and phone bills as evidence they live there.

“We’re going to fight this,” Terri Shaw Carter said again on Wednesday.

But Foran said this: “The facts are in dispute. There was never any question, nor was there any doubt that they owned a residence ... [but] our evidence was quite clear — the family was not residing in the address they owned.”

Owning property in the district – but living elsewhere – violates school code.

“School Code specifies ‘residency’ and defines it as living there as primary residence,” Foran wrote in an e-mailed response.

Court records say the family was living in Chicago’s West Side neighborhood known as Austin — which sits on the Oak Park line.

The West Side address the school says the family was living in is actually the home of Terri Shaw Carter’s mother. Carter and her mother run a daycare out of the residence, she says.

“There have been times when I’ve had to stay overnight — sometimes three times a week, it just depends on the parents. And yes, my children and husband come over, but we don’t live there,” Terri Shaw Carter told the Sun-Times on Wednesday.

The investigation was triggered by a complaint to school officials. An investigator was assigned to look into the matter and after that a hearing was held before it was turned over to the school board for a vote. The board upheld the findings, Foran said, and the Carters received a tuition bill.

During a hearing last year, a “for rent” listing was presented as evidence the Carter family wasn’t in the Oak Park condo during the 2009-2010 school year.

And Terri Shaw Carter confirmed she was questioned about whether the condo was rented out, but told school officials that she and her family lived there and that the “for rent” listing dated to 2008 — when she and her husband began looking into whether they should move in to a single family home in the area.

That plan fell through, and no one called about the ad.

“Like I told them at the hearing I forgot it was even listed,” Terri Shaw Carter said, noting that she forgot to take down the ad, which dated to 2008. “After that hearing I called my real estate agent and told her to take it down.”

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