By Billy Corriher
Real estate agent Joe Lane said that any time a family comes to him looking for a home, the first question the parents ask is about the local school system.
"When they pick a place to live, it's their number one priority," he said.
And with Clayton County Public Schools still on probation from its accrediting agency, Lane said it's tough to find buyers for homes in the county.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the school system on probation in May for violating its own policy, pointing to the Board of Education's meddling in the affairs of the superintendent.
Lane said many homes are now selling below their market value.
"The residential market is bad," he said. "No one wants to live here."
Lane said many families prefer to live in neighboring Henry or Fayette counties, instead of sending their children to Clayton County schools.
Jack Hancock, legal representation for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, said he hasn't explicitly heard from real estate firms that the school system is turning potential residents away.
But Hancock said the impact on the housing market was one reason the Chamber became involved with the controversy last summer, calling for the resignations of several school board members.
"There was concern about the overall economic impact," he said. "When you're seeking to attract an industry (to the county), they look at all those kinds of things."
Hancock said he is confident in the progress the system and its new superintendent, Barbara Pulliam, are making.
School board member Bob Livingston said he's heard concerns from area residents about property values, but he reassures them that the situation with the school system is improving.
"I do think that we'll get off the SACS (probation) shortly," he said, pointing to Pulliam's installment as an indication that the system is making progress.
Real estate broker Bonnie Myers said many parents of high school students want to leave Clayton County because they are worried their children won't be eligible for the HOPE scholarship if the system doesn't get off probation.
"The single best thing Clayton County can do is straighten out this situation and make it as public as they can," she said.
The local real estate market was also hurt when the airline industry took a dive after Sept. 11, 2001, but Myers said the school system controversy has been more detrimental to property values.
"I think there's a whole lot of people who don't realize what kind of effect this is having on them economically," she said. "I hope they'll set (the school system) straight, because the county needs it."