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Mixed messages: Residency investigation was focused on kids

June 09, 2010 - The investigation's complete and results are in.

According to school officials, law enforcement officers checked out allegations that Lake Orion School Boardmember Tiffany Weber-Phillips has not lived in the school district for months. Rumors suggested Weber-Phillips and her family lived in Oxford's school district instead.

Weber-Phillips (click for larger version)
"Tiffany Weber-Phillips and her family do live, in fact, in Lake Orion and not Oxford," announced Superintendent Ken Gutman at the school board's May 26 meeting.

But, Oakland County Sheriff Lieutenant Bruce Naile and Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh both said the investigation was specifically for Weber-Phillips' children only, not Weber-Phillips. Both noted the investigation came was at direction of the schools' administration.

Gutman confirmed the same information, Friday, June 4.

Board Vice President Mary Jo Burchart is now at the helm after former President Bill Walters retired. She said she's waiting on feedback from the district's attorney to verify whether or not the investigation is sufficient.

"If (the attorney) feels that the investigation is sufficient, there will be no other action taken. If his response is that it is not sufficient, I would be seeking input to decide what a next step would be," she said.

According to Burchart, requirements for a boardmember's residency are the same as for a student.

"They must live in the district," she said.

Burchart also said the investigation was conducted in the same way that the district would investigate any accusation of a student not living in the district, with the exception that Lake Orion police were involved.

"Certainly, this approach would seem logical as Tiffany has kids in the district," she said.

According to officials, residency checks are made by an OCSO school liaison at the request of the district.

For the check on Weber-Phillips' students, Thursday, May 20, Naile said, "At the time we did the inspection, it appeared that the children were living at that (Park Island) address at that time. We're not saying anything about a year prior, or two years prior … We advised the schools that if they wanted anything further, they should let us know."

Weber-Phillips did not return The Review's call for comment, but did say that she denies the allegations and calls her house on Park Island the family's "homestead" in an earlier interview. 

"We purchased the home in Lake Orion five or six years ago and that's always been our residence. Everything is at that address. That's where we live," she said. "I would say we're in the Lake Orion house 90 percent of the time."

Her Lake Orion neighbors said the family hasn't stayed at that house for months. According to three residents in close proximity, the house is instead a cottage or vacation home – a place used for entertaining or staying for an occasional weekend, and two or three weeks in the summer.

During the investigation for Weber-Phillips' children Naile said the school liaison officer went to the family's Park Island house and talked "with the gentleman who resides at that address and asked if he could check the house."

Naile said, "He checked to make sure somebody was living there, as far as students, and that their clothing was there and their beds were there. I also requested that he go check the second residence in Oxford, which he did. At that location, there is furniture there, but there is none of the kids clothing – the closets were empty and so forth. It was his determination at that point, at the time of the residency check, they were residing in Orion."

According to the school district's online policy listing, a child who is a legal resident of the district is eligible for tuition-free education.

Those same policies describe an eligible school boardmember as someone who is a qualified and registered elector of the school district. That means Weber-Phillips must be a resident of the district for at least 30 days, according to Joe Rozell, of Oakland County's

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