It’s Spring and the School Scores Are Here

I often have conversations with clients about whether to buy a home near a school with high test scores.  Never mind that they don’t have kids yet, they’re thinking ahead.  So, we talk about how important it is, or isn’t to do this.  I’m mentioning this because the 2006 API test scores were released yesterday.  Most of the school districts around here did fairly well.  Most of the districts have some under performing schools and some high achieving schools.  But it’s the urge to buy near the high performing schools that’s driving up some of our housing prices and causing crazy things to happen like parents camping out overnight so they can register  their child at Baywood School,  a high performing school with too little capacity for all of the neighborhood children.  What’s a parent to do? After all, they paid a lot of money to live near that school and want their children to attend it.

Our area has what I call a public-private education system.  What do I mean by this?  I mean you may send your child to a public school, but be prepared because you’re going to be asked to pay a whole lot of money to that school for anything and everything they need that’s not covered by our property taxes.  Now, the private comes from the foundations that have sprung up in our public school districts.  You don’t see these foundations in low income districts, mind you, but only in high wealth areas.  The areas where the schools know that they can come begging to the parents, and the local residents for funds. And, get them.

The schools have gotten creative since these foundations first showed up back when my three kids were in elementary school.  We’re talking back in the early 1980’s.  They should have by now, since they’ve had over 20 years to create new reasons for us to fund them.  Expect to get a phone call soon from your local district if you live in the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary District.  Or San Mateo Union High School District, for that matter.  They’ll come asking you to donate.  One school within the district, Baywood in San Mateo, puts on an auction that raises a whale of a lot of money — somewhere in the low six figures.  This money pays for teachers as well as “enrichment”.  The things that we used to expect to see taught in elementary school like art and music, new books for the library, computers for the computer lab, field trips, etc.

So, the API scores are out and as expected Hillsborough Elementary leads the pack in the number for the districts: 959 out of a possible 1000. This is expected as Hillsborough is a very high wealth area.  Burlingame Elementary follows with 874, Belmont and San Carlos are just behind with 873, Millbrae follows with 834 and San Mateo-Foster City has 801.  San Mateo-Foster City is the largest district with the widest range of incomes and therefore scores.  So, I ask what does this mean?  Is it really so critical to you as a buyer that you’ll pass up a great home near an okay school just to try and buy one for much more money near the top school?  Does it matter if you don’t have children yet?  Does it matter for resale?

These are questions I pose often and everyone has a different answer.  In my thinking, if we can change the demographics around a specific school with moreeducated parents, the school with improve their test scores.  So, why should it matter today when the child of the future (maybe 6 or 7 years away) will go there?  It doesn’t.  You can only be concerned with what’s going on today and not try to project the future.  Even though I collect magic wands and crystal balls, they’re only for fun.  Do you see anything in them?

Moving? Know the value of your home …