As officials in Anne Arundel County discuss redrawing school boundaries to save the government money, some homeowners may be wondering how the outcome might affect their own property values.
Real estate agents and home sellers, even those without children in the public schools, have more than a passing interest in how school boundaries are drawn.
Good schools aren't the only or even necessarily the main selling point in buying a new house. But they can be a significant motivator, agents say.
"There will probably be a mixed outcome between good sales and more difficult sales," says Bill Curlett, a real estate agent in Glen Burnie with O'Conor Piper & Flynn. "No matter what they do, it's going to be a mixed emotional time for all."
The County Council has asked the school board to look hard at county-wide redistricting. The council says more efficient use of school space would provide better educational opportunities for children and, in cash-strapped times, save $80 million to $100 million.
In adopting the county's budget earlier this month the County Council agreed, in effect, to hold up $15.6 million for construction of the long-awaited North County High School until the school board comes up with a plan to redistrict the entire school system.
There is no proposal yet, but the council has asked the Board of Education to prepare a plan by fall.
Past plans to redistrict even small parts of the county have met firestorms of protest from parents, and school officials have greeted the latest proposal to come up with a redistricting plan with skepticism.
In the past, parents have complained about plans to shift their children out of a neighborhood school they feel has a good reputation to ones they perceive as lesser schools.
Legally, real estate agents are not supposed to answer questions about which school is better than another, says Roy Bryant, duty agent for O'Conor Piper & Flynn in Crofton. Bryant says he instructs the agents in his office to refer clients to the school system's published annual report that lists information such as test scores and graduation rates for individual schools.
"Anne Arundel provides us with copies of those reports," Bryant says. "Some other school systems may charge you a dollar, but the report is available to anyone who wants it.
"As far as I'm concerned, at least regarding this county, there's not much difference in test scores from school to school. I always tell clients a child's performance in any school depends on the parents' involvement," Bryant said.
However, many real estate advertisements in the Baltimore area use well-known neighborhood names with reputations for good schools as a selling point. In Baltimore County, for instance, "Stoneleigh schools" are touted in home classified ads referring to a neighborhood just outside the city line that has a reputation for good schools.
In Anne Arundel, Curlett says, "I know Old Mill is a very sought-after high school. Redistricting in that area might take some of the selling power out of that school district, especially among the newer developments.
"A lot of people moved into some of the newer developments [there] so they could send their kids to that school. That could taper off now.Then again, the redistricting could benefit the outlying neighborhoods, those on the fringe. Those areas might be more enticing to some."
In an ongoing redistricting controversy in Cecil County, where the state Board of Education recently upheld a redistricting plan, parents testified they had researched the schools they wanted their children to attend before deciding where to move.
In Baltimore County last year, the proposed redistricting of schools in the Perry Hall and Randallstown areas caused heated debate among school officials and parents.
Long and Foster's Jack Beach says redistricting "is a concern," especially in Perry Hall.