By Michael Hill
New Jersey school boards say their districts spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year educating children who don’t live in their districts. They say it’s common for parents to seek better-performing schools by district or boundary hopping.
“No. It’s not the issue. It was never an issue,” said mother Gloria Caquias.
Officials from Woodland Park Schools say Caquias lived in Paterson when she illegally registered her child at this Woodland Park middle school a year ago. They want her to pay the district thousands of dollars.
“This is ridiculous. They want to punish me because I lived there,” said Caquias.
Last September, Woodland Park Police confirmed Caquias and her younger child lived here on Whittaker Avenue with Caquias’ parents. The school district later got a tip Caquias was living here on McBride Avenue in Paterson. In February, police say twice they saw the mother and child leaving here in the morning and going to the Woodland middle school.
Caquias says she has an older, sickly child living on McBride.
“Every now and then my little one used to sleep here, but she mainly reside at Woodland Park,” she said.
Caquias showed NJTV News medical and legal bills and her driver’s license with the Woodland Park address and an affidavit from her mother stating she lived in Woodland Park.
But, the Woodland Park School Board determined she doesn’t live here and her child had to leave the school. To parents, Superintendent Michele Pillari says, “think twice about what you’re doing, because at the end of the day it’s about the children.”
Caquias says she panicked and went to this Office Depot, bought a blank lease and falsified the information.
“Yes, I made a mistake,” said Caquias.
Woodland Park says this case points to its vigilance for investigating reports of non-residents enrolling in school here and its quest to make the taxpayers whole by demanding restitution, in this particular case, of $13, 271.
When asked if she plans on paying them back, Caquias said, “No, I’m fighting them because I have all the proof.”
Caquias and her youngest child now call McBride Avenue in Paterson home, and her child goes to school in Paterson.
Woodland Park Schools say parents using fraudulent addresses was the most common denominator for last school year’s 19 non-resident enrollment cases.
When asked if Pillari was confident the school district was catching the people ‘cheating the system’ she said, “We do the best we can.”
“This is crazy. It’s insane,” said Caquias.
Caquias has accused Woodland Park Schools of harassment. That and residency case go to court next February, if the two parties don’t close the books on where she lived last school year.
Related: Woodland Park Sets Ordinance Fining Parents For False Addresses — watch here.