Are entrants in Ajo schools?
May 26, 2005
Official says yes, criticizes county for lack of action
By Lourdes Medrano

Tom Horne wants the Ajo students' residency status to be verified.

The state's top school official said Wednesday that students who live in Mexico regularly attend public schools in Ajo at the expense of Arizona taxpayers and that Pima County's school superintendent has refused his request to investigate the matter.

That refusal could result in a challenge of future per-pupil funding requests, said state schools superintendent Tom Horne
Horne said the allegations first raised a year ago in news reports were confirmed by a private investigator he sent to the border. The investigator videotaped students walking across the Lukeville border and boarding a nearby school bus.
Horne also said a Lukeville trailer-park employee admitted giving utility receipts to Mexican students - who were not residents - that the Pima County School Superintendent's Office accepted as proof of residency.
While federal law mandates a public education for all students regardless of their legal status, school districts require evidence that they live within its boundaries.
Horne said Pima County Schools Superintendent Linda Arzoumanian declined to investigate further, and Ajo Unified School District Superintendent Robert Dooley has yet to respond.
Should Arzoumanian or Dooley fail to take action, Horne said he may challenge schools' requests for per-pupil funding, an annual allotment which is currently set at $5,000 per student.
"We're not asking for any students to be taken out of school," he said. "We're just asking that they start making home visits next year to confirm residency."
Arzoumanian said she has no plans to do so because she must apply the same school criteria to all students, not just one group.
She said discriminating against students based on citizenship, race or national origin is unconstitutional - and because address checks aren't common practice - she hesitates to focus on border-area students of apparent Mexican heritage.
"It's not within my right to do an investigation," she said.
If, as in the Ajo schools, students provide the rent and utility receipts, or guardianship documents that they need to prove they live in the district, then they are eligible to attend public schools.
"I'm not sure that any (students from Mexico ) are attending. There's no way to know," she said.
In a letter to Horne on Wednesday, Arzoumanian reiterates that the matter be turned over to the Arizona Attorney General's Office for a legal opinion.
Susan Seagal, the attorney general's chief counsel for education and health, said her office has not yet received any evidence of a crime, such as the trailer-park utility receipts.
"We have to see it first," before deciding whether to investigate, she said.
Ultimately, Seagal noted, it is the responsibility of the Pima County Superintendent's Office and the Ajo school district to determine if students are ineligible to attend school.
Dooley, the Ajo superintendent, couldn't be reached for comment. But other Arizona educators said border schools have been grappling with the problem for years.
Superintendent Kelt Cooper of the Nogales Unified School District said that after Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of students were noticeably absent for days. Increased border enforcement had kept them from crossing.
A red flag went up, Cooper said, and administrators determined that most of them lived in Nogales, Sonora. They were withdrawn from the district.
"That's a reality on the border," he said. "Do I think it's going to stop? No."
Cooper said many school administrators turn a blind eye because cracking down on the students would mean lost revenue.
That's not the case in Nogales. Cooper said his district has various mechanisms in place to verify students' addresses regularly, including knocking on doors.
Cooper said he personally has gone to students' homes and asked to see their rooms.
"If you don't live in my district, then you have to pay tuition," he said, referring to Sonoran students.
The Yuma Union High School District also takes extra precautions to keep students who live south of the border from illegally enrolling.
Gerrick Monroe, assistant superintendent for the district, said a full-time attendance monitor each morning stands at the border to jot down the names of students crossing the border. Later in the day, the monitor verifies addresses and makes home visits.
Monroe said the border crossers include students who pay more than $5,000 in tuition to attend district schools, as well as others who have legitimate reasons for going back and forth across the border.
But as the school year wears on, he said, the number of students on the monitor's list decreases significantly.
Monroe said the practice has been in place several years and has garnered much public support from district taxpayers.
"It's important that we do everything we can legally do to ensure that tax dollars are being used by people who have a right to use them," he said.
● Contact reporter Lourdes Medrano at 573-4347 or