Fear and learning: School districts and property values intertwine

Redistricting has been a hot topic of late for many families in Albemarle County.

Parents of students attending potentially affected schools have expressed concerns about the impact redistricting could have on a range of issues that included academic performance, diversity, distance and, of course, social interactions with established teachers and friends.

But whenever the topic of redistricting arises, so does another source of concern for many local parents– the impact on property values. That’s because, for many buyers, school district is a major factor in deciding where to live.

“It’s one of the top two or three criteria for the majority of my buyers, if not the first, regardless of whether they have kids or not,” says Jim Duncan, a realtor with Nest Realty. “Experienced homebuyers recognize this; first time buyers sometimes push it off as not as important, though I don’t encourage them to do so.”

When asked whether school district played a role in her family’s decision to live in Western Albemarle, Ivy resident and Charlottesville Family co-publisher Jennifer Bryerton supports Duncan’s assertion.

“Absolutely,” she says. “That’s why we’re here.”

Bryerton, like many others, worries about what effect redistricting might have on property values.

“I fear that everyone’s property values could be impacted if we don’t implement smart strategies to deal with the growth long-term," she says. "And I worry that the uncertainty that redistricting creates will make this a less desirable area to live in because people will worry about what will happen next time.”

And while the recent proposal to shift some properties out of the western feeder pattern has been tabled for the time being, growth in the Western Albemarle area makes it likely that there will be a next time for this issue.

Duncan agrees that properties shifted out of the western feeder pattern would be affected.

“I think it’s likely to have a not-immediate effect both on property values and perceived property values,” he says, addressing the fear that the affected properties would see a decline in value. “If perception becomes reality, I think we’re looking at something that could be very significant. People move for the climate, the culture and the quality of our schools. If we don’t maintain that quality, we’ll be seriously deficient.”

Homebuyers have historically regarded Western Albemarle as a highly desirable location, though the reasons for its appeal are hardly limited to the performance of its public schools.

"It’s hard to quantify [the appeal],” Duncan says, “because there are so many other variables– proximity to mountains, congestion, commute time. It’s a matter of people wanting to be certain places for certain reasons."

Whatever the reasons, Western Albemarle tops the list as that “certain place” for many buyers. According to the Nest Realty Third Quarter Report, Crozet was one of the top areas in Albemarle County for sales, largely due to the volume of new home construction. Add in the statistics from the neighboring Ivy area and activity in the western portion of the county accounted for 25 percent of sales overall. Such figures aren’t surprising given that the population rate in Crozet, reported at just over 5,000 in 2010, is expected to reach 14,000-16,000 if maximum housing densities in approved developments are realized, according to the Crozet Master Plan.

Increased density leads to overcrowding in the existing schools, but is redistricting the only answer?

“I think it’s clear with all the construction going on that we need more space,” Jen Bryerton says. "I think we need to fund buildings.”

Jim Duncan agrees.

“The county designated Crozet as a growth area,” he says, “but failed to plan for or to budget for that.A significant increase in population requires schools to handle that increase, and they haven’t done an adequate job of preparing for that."


"Certain reasons."
"Funding more buildings. "
Here's another idea......have the high school buses use a transfer center a mile away from the schools, while converting the former staging areas to more student parking.

What is it about the Western Albemarle school district that leads people to buy there? Is there any data or anecdotes to suggest these schools are truly better?

Meg, there is plenty of data on SOL scores as well as safety scores available at the VA DOE website. And if you look at the elementary school PTO's, they raise lots of money which translates into more enrichment experiences, field trips, teacher stipends for extra educational supplies, and things like SmartBoards, library books, gym and playground equipment. Parents who are of a mindset to pick the "best schools" are generally more invested in their children's education, make sure that homework and projects get done and that their children see that educational performance is a priority.

As a teacher and a parent I can say that Western is much over rated on many levels. Since I do not want to disparage the individual (IMHO boarder-line incompetent) teachers I will just raise the issue of the student population.

Western has the highest percentage of students who's parents have degrees (lots of doctors and UVa professors). These kids will do well regardless of bad teachers. So they test high! Duh! They come from high functioning families where the expectation is that they will go on to college.

AHS & MHS have the most diverse and challenging populations and these schools are doing an amazing job!

I agree with Ari. I have friends who had kids at Western and said it was a horrible experience because the school is too crowded, and they were on a split-day schedule. The four high schools here are all fairly comparable to each other, and picking on the basis of SOL scores is not a good idea because the tests don't tell anything about the truly important things like critical thinking. Don't forget about CHS, either--they have a strong arts curriculum and provide great individual attention from the teachers as a whole. Ultimately, strong families with college-educated parents = strong students and schools. The teachers can only do so much, esp. with those stupid SOLs on their lesson plans.

MHS is a war zone