Hummel Report

The Hummel Report: Homestead Hustle?

It is 6:20 on a Tuesday morning and the Manzi family is already on the move.
Stephanie Manzi, vice president of the Johnston Town Council, is driving her 16-year-old triplets to school and traffic is picking up on Route 6 heading east. Instead of making the 10-minute drive from their home to Johnston High School, the Manzis hop onto Route 295 south, to 95 south, to Route 4 south, before taking the exit heading into the heart of South County.
Forty-five minutes after leaving home, Councilwoman Manzi drops her children off in front of Narragansett High School. The triplets, now sophomores and honor roll students, have been going to class here since August 2014, the beginning of their freshman year.
A Hummel Report investigation found Manzi regularly driving her children in the morning from her home in Johnston to the high school 33 miles to the south. Rhode Island state law is clear about where public school students may enroll: in the community where they live – and by extension where at least one of their parents lives. So we asked her about it after a council meeting last month.
Councilwoman Manzi told us she lived in Johnston but her husband, Paul, a retired Johnston police officer who is a lieutenant on the Rhode Island College Campus Police force, is a resident in Narragansett – living in a 784-square-foot cottage on Ocean Road.
And that is the address Paul Manzi used as his principal residence when he registered their children for school. Councilwoman Manzi told us the cottage – and not a 3,200-square-foot house in Johnston they’ve owned for more than a decade – is where the children live.
Narragansett High School, which has 415 students, is consistently ranked in the top 10 for public high schools in Rhode Island. The average cost per pupil in the town is just shy of $20,000.
Paul Manzi’s stated residency in Narragansett contradicts a form Councilwoman Manzi signed a year ago to receive a “homestead exemption” that gives the couple a 20% reduction on the taxes they pay for their home in Johnston. That translates to a $1,588 savings for the Manzis.
Councilwoman Manzi and her colleagues unanimously supported a measure last year to crack down on those who were violating the homestead exemption, a measure spearheaded by Mayor Joseph Polisena.
Jim Hummel: You get the homestead exemption?
Stephanie Manzi: I get it here in Johnston, yes.
JH: So you’re taking the homestead exemption…
SM: There’s nothing in Narragansett, I claim nothing in Narragansett. My primary residence is Johnston.
Following our interview, we obtained the notarized form Councilwoman Manzi signed saying the Johnston home is her principal residence and that she and/or her spouse do not claim any other residence as their principal residence (jointly or solely).
Mayor Polisena, says that based on our findings he has directed his solicitor to examine whether the Manzis should still be entitled to the homestead exemption.
While Paul Manzi registers his vehicle in Narragansett, where the car tax is less than half of what it is in Johnston, records we obtained show he is registered to vote in Johnston, his paycheck from Rhode Island College goes to Johnston, his pension check is mailed to his address in Johnston and he incorporated a business in the summer of 2015 using the couple’s home address in Johnston.
JH: So you’ve basically set it up that you’re living apart even though you’re together so they can go to school in Narragansett.
SM: Well, there are plenty of families, you know, there are other families that probably do what we do.
JH: You think that there are?
SM: There’s a lot of people who don’t use the Johnston public school system. We made a family decision that that was the right fit for my children.
JH: Then why don’t you just move to Narragansett?
SM: Because I love Johnston.
The superintendent in Narragansett tells The Hummel Report that based on our investigation she has begun her own investigation into the Manzis’ residency. We requested a copy of the Certificate of Residency filled out by Paul Manzi. The superintendent said it was not in the packet of information the family submitted to register; she told us she does not know why and that will be part of her investigation.
“The decision where my children were going to go to school happened after I had decided to run again, so we made the family decision that we were going to live separately during high school,’’ Councilwoman Manzi said.