Families planning to move can get help

October 09, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County parents can save time and legwork with a new service that profiles high schools in neighborhoods where they want to move -- in the county and nationwide.

With the flip of a 15- to 20-page report, parents can find out about average class sizes, extracurricular activities, interscholastic sports, academic programs and the percentage of seniors going on to attend four-year colleges and roughly 200 other tidbits on the county's eight high schools.

County residents planning to move from the county can also get information on schools in other Maryland counties and in 15 states -- as close as Catonsville and as far away as San Diego County, Calif.

"Realtors tell us they will often send the reports to the customers before they look at houses," said Steven Wetzler, a representative of the National School Report Service, the company that issues the reports.

"Often, the information they find in the report will eliminate the areas that may be inappropriate for them, for whatever reason. It's a big time-saver."

The National School Report Service, based in Stamford, Conn., was founded five years ago by Neil and Rosanne Rosen, two former teachers who had problems finding a school with a good orchestral program for their four children.

The service is free to homebuyers through participating real estate agents, who pay a $125 annual fee to enroll in the program and

can request reports for their customers, whether they are sellers or buyers.

A maximum of six schools appear on a report, and the information can be on schools in the same county or in different counties. Clients tell agents where they want to move, and the agents fax the requests to the Connecticut headquarters via a toll-free telephone number. The company mails out the reports the next day.

Nationwide, more than 16,000 agents have enrolled in the service, giving them access to information on 2,500 school districts in 15 states. More than 250,000 families used the program last year, and the company mails out about 2,500 reports a week.

In Northern Virginia and in Baltimore, Frederick, Carroll and Prince George's counties, 135 real estate offices subscribe to the service, which began in Maryland last year.

The service became available in Howard County last month, with a handful of real estate offices in Columbia and Ellicott City participating.

"We're really thrilled we have it," said Sandy Mitchell, office manager at O'Conor, Piper and Flynn in Ellicott City. "It's just another service we can offer to the buyers and people coming into the area to give them information on the area. It's nice to provide them the report that gives the information they need."

Biff Bartholomew, also with O'Conor, Piper and Flynn, said being able to give clients independent information on schools takes a burden off real estate agents, who are often asked about the schools in the area.

"One has to be careful about what one expresses regarding schools," he said. "Realtors must be very careful not to make pronouncements about different school systems. This is an independent source of information" for buyers.

Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the county schools, said the service gives parents a good foundation but that parents should not rely on it to describe the school system in which they are interested.

"I'm not sure you can capture the essence of the school system in statistics," she said. "Everything that counts can't be measured, like the actual environment of the school. You're not getting a three-dimension look at the school system. We're living, breathing organisms here. I think one of the most important things we tell people is to visit the schools."

Ms. Caplan said some real estate agents push homebuyers toward school districts that are believed to be better than others in the county, but that all Howard County schools offer similar programs.

"The quality of education is pretty standard," she said.

Mr. Wetzler said the reports are not intended to rank schools. "We do not rate or rank," he said. "It's just an unbiased, factual presentation on what a particular high school has to offer."

"Even though different districts show up side by side, we like to say the report brings out the positive benefits each school area has to offer," Mr. Wetzler said.

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