Do Your Homework: A guide to public schools & property in SFApril 5th, 2012
Several weeks have passed now since the notorious San Francisco Unified School District placement lottery so I feel like I can now take a step back and put this all in perspective without having a minor emotional breakdown. My partner and I have a five year old son that just survived the crazy process of getting into kindergarten in San Francisco. It’s a process that I didn’t think would impact me in the way it did, but when it came right down to it, it was a nerve-wracking and downright emotional experience!
If you’re new to San Francisco or don’t have a young child and haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a quick summary of how the new (started in 2011) public school placement process works:
1) In the fall prior to your child entering kindergarten, parents are expected to tour as many elementary schools as they’d like to consider. Usually these are guided tours led by current families attending the school. Some schools have self guided tour booklets and others even have iPod audio tours! The tours usually last about 1 hour and often end with the principal answering questions about the school. You usually get to visit a handful of classrooms. Your mission is to get as much of a feel for that school in that hour to help guide you in your next step, the application.
2) In January, it’s application time. You can list as many schools as you’d like in the order that prefer. We listed six. Some parents only list two or three and others list 21. There are all sorts of tips out there about how many you should list in order to have the best chance of receiving one of your top choices. If you really want to drive yourself crazy, the school district publishes statistics from previous years so your can determine which schools have the highest ratio of applicants to placements. I have a friend who did a full on statistical analysis of the schools in which they were interested. They used that info to inform their application process. Side note, they got their first choice. I can’t say for sure, but the pessimist in me tends to think that was just pure luck!
3) Inevitably, there are way more requests for many schools than there are seats available. This is where the true confusion begins. The district employs a computerized system that places students based on a series of tie-breakers. For elementary schools, this includes factors such as younger siblings, pre-K attendance area, test score area, attendance area, then all others. So, to overly simplify, siblings beat out all. Then students who attended a SFUSD pre-K program in a particular attendance area get the next dibs. Following that, students who live in areas that have historically low test scores get the next spots, and finally students who live in the designated “attendance area” for the school get dibs on any remaining spots. After all the tiebreakers, any other students may be placed in the school. If you don’t get one of your choices, the computer then assigns you to the closest school that has openings.
4) Decision letters are mailed out in mid-March. On the day they were set to arrive, I sat for 2 hours staring out my bay window looking for the mail truck. When the mailman finally arrived, I nearly yanked the mail from his hand. We sat down on the couch and slowly opened the letter that was set to define a large portion of our lives for the next six years. We breathed a heavy sigh of relief as we were one of the 60% that received our first-choice school. It helped that our first choice was our neighborhood (attendance area) school.
5) If you’re not happy with your choice, there is an appeal process that can help place you in to another school.
So, how does this affect real estate? In short, somewhat. Because living in a particular attendance area gives you a better shot at getting into that neighborhood school (based on the tiebreaker system explained above), there are some buyers who will seek to buy in a particular attendance area. More often, they will try to avoid the attendance areas of schools that currently are underperforming (at least per test scores). We certainly don’t see the kind of relationship between schools and real estate that most of the rest of the country sees, but it can certainly play a role in some buyer’s choices.
Want to see how the attendance areas are currently defined? Download this map from SFUSD.
For more information about the “nitty gritty” of the school assignment process, feel free to contact us for more info!