Legal Brief                                                     Page 10


Legislating Where You

Can Live    



Congratulations — you got the superintendent job you wanted. Now you have to sell your house and relocate your family.

When interviewing, the school board’s residency requirement was probably the least of your concerns. You were too preoccupied with candidacy matters to consider the practical impact of the residency clause on your life and that of your family. Are you going to move into the district where you’ll be working?

If you committed to the residency requirement during your interview, you should immediately plan to move to the district. Boards of education want their superintendent to be viewed as a community leader. That means joining local service clubs, attending after-school and weekend events, shopping locally and attending a local place of worship. Many boards also want the superintendent to purchase a home in the immediate community and to pay local taxes.

State Legislation
Even state legislators nationwide are taking up superintendent residency. In New York, legislation requires state residency for BOCES superintendents. These superintendents can lose their job, lawfully and without due process, if found not to be residing in the state. One BOCES superintendent lost his job after his board realized he had an apartment out of state. One day he was the district superintendent, and the next day he was gone.

New York’s lawmakers recently proposed legislation requiring all superintendents to be residents of the state and mandating they live in a county contiguous to the school district. Fortunately for superintendents living across the border in Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania, that measure did not pass.

Regardless, boards of education can include a residency requirement in the contract, mandating the new superintendent permanently live and purchase a house within the district’s boundaries. Renting an apartment is typically not enough to establish district residency, especially if your family does not move with you and you maintain ownership of your house elsewhere. Boards fear the new superintendent will be away most weekends to be with his or her family and perceive the superintendent as not fully committed to the district.

School boards do enforce residency requirements. Board members, staff and community members will scrutinize the newcomer, looking at Friday departure and Monday arrival times for clues. If you are a superintendent candidate, do not renege on a promise to move into the district. Doing so sends signals to the board that you might not be a good fit, and the board could rescind its offer. This is a new trend with serious implications. Be upfront with the board but realize that if you aren’t planning to relocate for a superintendency, you probably aren’t as attractive a candidate as one willing to move in.

Resolving Residency
The residency commitment will affect you and your family for a long time so make the residency decision before you apply. Pay attention to the application — does it require residency, prefer residency or not address residency? Talk to the search consultant in advance. Residency issues can be handled effectively through contract negotiations. Managing expectations of your board, your staff and your local community through communication is essential.

If you live within six miles of the prospective district, try to negotiate a compromise by agreeing to live within a 10-mile radius of the district. Talk to the board about a reasonable time within which to move. Consider asking for 18 months to move to the district rather than six months from the commencement date of the contract. Ask the board for a time extension if you experience difficulty selling your house. If you don’t intend to sell, recognize the continued ownership within the contract and define residency broadly to include renting within the district.

As a candidate, educate yourself on what your state law requires and what your board expects before starting contract negotiations. Consult with your attorney about residency. For statistical trends in superintendent residency, contact your state association.

Michele Handzel is a school attorney with Capital Region BOCES in Albany, N.Y. E-mail: michele.handzel@neric.org


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