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Real important: School ratings impact Realtors

By Clay Wilson

Some Henry and Clayton County real estate agents are split over just how important people's perceptions of an area's school system are in determining whether they will locate there.

The real estate agents agree, however, that n at least in theory n the quality of schools is a prime concern of prospective clients who have children.

And with Clayton County's schools embroiled in a long-running school board controversy and half of Henry County's schools battling the stigma of the state's "adequate yearly progress" list, local real estate agents may have to rely more and more on the schools to sell themselves.

"That's about the only thing you can do, is go to the school and see for yourself," said Metro South Association of Realtors President Sandra McCrary.

Like other area real estate agents, McCrary said potential homebuyers with children are very concerned with the reputation of an area's schools.

"Of course as a Realtor, the most common question I get is, ?How are the schools?'" said David Barton of Re/Max Advantage in Stockbridge.

Barton said that rather than trying to keep up with all of Clayton's 53 schools or risking speaking on something he doesn't know, he refers parents to official sources such as the Georgia Department of Education's Web site.

"If you don't have a child in that school, you don't know," he said. "You just try to counter (parents' concerns) by almost putting it back in their hands."

A seven-year real estate veteran, Barton said he will often give parents the telephone numbers of the school their children would attend if they move into a certain area, so the parents can inspect the school for themselves.

However, he said, he'll do research on an area's school system for clients if they indicate that is a particular concern.

Henry County parent Kathryn Vallish said that when she was considering moving to Henry County from Florida two years ago, she did her own research on the school system via the Internet.

"When you're from out of state, that's probably one of the first things you look at," she said.

Vallish said that when she and her husband, Dan, moved they had a daughter going into sixth grade, one going into eighth grade and a son going into 10th grade who had special needs.

"I wanted to make sure that (the school system) had a full complement of services," she said.

Barton said that despite the highly publicized controversy in the Clayton system n which has been placed on probation by the regional school accrediting body for alleged micromanagement by the school board n people are still moving into the area.

In fact, he said, "Even with all the turmoil that's going on with the school board, we have sold more homes (to date) this year than we did (by the same time) last year and the year before."

He said he thinks that the lure of a good deal can often trump even concerns about the school system.

"If someone can save $10,000 to $15,000 ? they will jump on it," he said.

But McCrary, who is also a Realtor with Re/Max in Stockbridge, indicated she has been concerned with how negative publicity on the school system may affect the area's desirability.

"I've been really more consumed with (the controversy in) Clayton County," she said.

McCrary was responding to the idea that concerns about 14 of Henry County's 30 schools failing to make "adequate yearly progress," as defined by the state, might cause some potential homebuyers to think twice.

She said that so far, she hasn't heard any potential buyers expressing concern about the list.

But in Henry educational circles, there is concern about parents' perception of the system.

"I think that perception is extremely important, and that's why we want to make sure that our school system is perceived as positively as possible," said Henry County Schools Superintendent Jack Parish.

Parish has indicated concern before that parents will only see that some of the county's schools failed to make adequate yearly progress, even though in several of those instances this was based on student participation in benchmark tests rather than actual performance on the tests.

"Very often individuals will just look at a headline in a newspaper or listen to a 15-second sound bite and that's as far as they look," he said.

But while he said the system must continually strive to meet the state's standards, he said that sometimes an actual visit to a school is the best way to gauge its caliber.

"I think taking a prospective (real estate) client to one of our schools is always welcome," he said.