School District Boundary Changes Can Affect Home Values

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on January 17, 2010 · 16 comments

The elementary school for a rental home I own looks like it’s going to be switched from Oak Hill Elementary to Patton Elementary. My rental home is located in Scenic Book West, shown in green/turquoise  just to the left of the words “Oak Hill” on the map below. Note that kids in this neighborhood, who previously attended Oak Hill Elementary will now be driven, literally, right past Oak Hill elementary further down the road to Patton. This is to provide relief to Oak Hill Elementary, which is well over capacity and still growing. But these kids will still track into Small Middle and Bowie High.

Austin ISD Boundary Map SW Austin

In this case, because Oak Hill and Patton elementary schools are both solid, reasonably well regarded elementary schools, I don’t expect a negative impact to the value of my home. Therefore, when I attended a public meeting recently at Clayton Elementary regarding the boundary changes for Southwest Austin elementary schools, I mainly wanted to listen to what other home owners and parents had to say about some of the other proposed changes. Also, at that time, my neighborhood wasn’t slated to be switched, though I knew it was a possibility being considered.

One of the proposed changes to the boundary map would have carved out a small section of Village at Western Oaks which currently attends Mills Elementary (shown in magenta above) and sent those kids across Mopac to Boone Elementary, and a different Middle to High school track. Mills parents turned out in force to oppose this ridiculously stupid and offensive boundary change, which would have not only sent the affected kids to poorer performing schools on the other side of a major freeway (as opposed to current walking distance to Mills), but forever separated them school-socially from neighborhood friends living just blocks away.

This, in turn, would have likely resulted in many of the parents of the relocated kids deciding to sell their homes and relocate back within their desired school track, which in turn would have created a sudden inventory spike in a small pocket of now less desirable homes, due to the newly imposed inferior school track. And, finally, Realtors like me and Sylvia would advise buyers against buying in this oddball pocket of the Village at Western Oaks because we fear it won’t hold value as well as the surrounding homes attending better school tracks.

Do schools and school tracks affect housing demand and values in this way? Of course they do. In a major way. And, as a Realtor team that pushes the value buying and owning homes that attend good schools (whether you have kids or not), Sylvia and I think it’s important that buyers understand just how unreliable and impermanent  some of the Austin ISD tracking maps can be. Why the shifting school boundary maps?

In the case of the current boundary redrawing effort, we have a situation where the SW corner of Austin has a cluster of well performing schools in the highly desirable neighborhoods of Circle C, Meridian, Village at Western Oaks, Legend Oaks, Granada and west Oak Hill. Those neighborhoods attend Mills, Clayton and Kiker elementary schools, all of which are over populated, and will remain so even after the opening of the new SW Austin elementary (in Meridian) in Fall 2010. Meanwhile, on the other side of Mopac, in aging neighborhoods of smaller homes, Boone elementary has fallen to 56% occupancy and  Sunset Valley to 64%. Neither of those schools are sought out by school-centric, ratings-obsessed buyers, and the demographics indicate continued loss of student population into the future.

So, with under capacity schools in areas of shrinking student populations, and over capacity schools in nearby areas of growing student population, AISD is looking to reassign students to fill the under-capacity schools and relieve the over-crowded ones. The real solution would be to close Sunset Valley and let Boone and Cowan elementary schools handle the needs of that geographic area. Of course, something as sensible as closing an aging, unneeded school is not politically possible, thus the need to steal kids from well performing areas and re-assign them to the schools that need more students.

Let’s take a look at the stated criteria used by the AISD Facility Use and Boundary Task Force.

1) ACHIEVE CAPACITY TARGETS THAT ENSURE EFFICIENT OPERATION OF FACILITIES.
2) AFFECT THE FEWEST STUDENTS POSSIBLE.
3) ATTEND TO THE ALIGNMENT OF FEEDER PATTERNS, AS REASONABLE, AND BALANCED AGAINST THE OTHER CRITERIA.
4) PREVENT MULTIPLE REASSIGNMENTS OF STUDENTS AMONG SCHOOLS BY DEVELOPING STABLE, LONG-TERM ASSIGNMENT PLANS.

Number 1, if fully written to reflect the truth, would be appended with “while not closing any schools”. It’s number 2 above that I want to expand upon though.

As bureaucracies are prone to do, AISD has created flawed criteria by not including or recognizing in #2 that “affect” can mean a lot of different things. Simply using a body count to rank whether this criteria is met, and of course going for the lowest number possible, is a faulty and unintelligent approach. This is because the criteria fails to address the level of impact or the intensity of the impact on affected students. This is how the task force ended up with a proposed gerrymandered map that would have moved relatively few students out of Mills and over to Boone, but with huge, egregious disruption to the lives of those particular families and kids.

In other words, using a 1 to 10 scale, the impact to these Mills families in the Village at Western Oaks would have been a 10. Being carved out of the rest of the neighborhood, and not only being taken from your walking-distance elementary school and being bussed across the freeway, but also switched into new (and lower rated) middle and high school tracks, would be a catastrophic change. Disruption like that should never be imposed on a family in a neighborhood known for it’s good schools. But the guidelines being followed by the task force made this shift in attendance mapping seem like a good, acceptable change because it abides criteria #2 and helps the bigger puzzle come into shape.

On the other hand, closing Sunset Valley Elementary would “impact” a lot more kids by sheer body count, but if the lesser magnitude of the impact was taken into account, perhaps this would be rightly viewed as a plausible option. Instead of a select few kids being removed from their school, the entire school would be moving to either Sunset Valley or Cowan. In other words, in some areas of life, it’s easier and less disruptive to move an entire herd than it is to cull out specific members of several different herds.

Thusly, if three under-enrolled school were merged into two full capacity schools, both east of Mopac and west of Westgate Blvd. 2 entire clusters of neighborhood kids would remain together on their walk or ride to school, and all the way up through their middle and high school tracks, which would not change. I would rate a change like this as a “level 2″ impact on a kid.

So, would it be better to impose an “Level 10″ disruption on a small population of kids, or a Level 2 disruption on a larger population? This doesn’t even take into considertation the cost savings of closing and either “re-purposing” or selling to a private school the left over campus.

So, when you seek out a home in a good school track, can you look at the map and discern whether or not your candidate home might be in future jeapordy of being remapped to a less desirable set of schools? Not really. I suppose if you live three blocks from a school, you could make stronger assumptions than if you live on the last block of the boundary zone.

As is the case in many aspects of a real estate purchase, it’s buyer beware, and there are no guarantees.

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