The Price of “Good” Public Schools Found in Nearby Mortgages

We get up every morning at 6:30. Or rather I get up at 6:30 so that I can be dressed before the kids get up at 7. School doesn’t start until 8:30, but we have to be out of the house by 7:45 if we’re going to make it on time.

We could have opted for the magnet public school at the end of the street, we got in after all, and yet instead we chose to send our kindergartner to a private school 45 minutes and five towns away. We love our neighborhood for so many reasons, but the schools are not one of them.

Between the four of us we manage to hit at least five towns every day. We live in Santa Clara. My husband works in Redwood City. My youngest daughter goes to preschool and daycare in Los Altos. Her older sister goes to school in Palo Alto. And I work in Sunnyvale. I envy my sister who walks all three of her children to school before popping into a coffee shop before walking back home.

For a brief moment last year, when faced with the fact that the neighborhood school was not exactly what we had hoped for when envisioning the ideal kindergarten classroom, we considered moving north, leaving the South Bay behind and fully embracing our Peninsula lifestyle. We toured countless homes – each one of them a smaller, more run down version of our home for twice the price, and we researched public schools in each neighborhood.

We contemplated eating rice and beans for years and brushing up on DIY home repairs so that we could enjoy the luxury of walking to a great neighborhood school. It would have taken some getting used to and some serious belt tightening, but it would have been lovely to live next door to classmates and really belonging to the community.

But the cost for going to a great public school in the Bay Area is reflected in price of the nearby homes. Weekend after depressing weekend was filled with touring grim homes in perfect neighborhoods. My dreams were haunted by water stained walls and moldy carpets. I had panic attacks about paying for mortgages we couldn’t afford in our wildest dreams just so we wouldn’t have to pay for school.

And then, when I was ready to tear all my hair out, I walked into a tiny principal’s office in a teensy private school in Palo Alto. I fell in love with the school, the director, the teachers, and the community. We decided to put our money into a private school instead of an overblown mortgage and I reconciled myself to driving to all ends of the Peninsula for a few more years.

Now if I could just find a drive through coffee joint on the way to one of the schools I visit every morning I’d almost be able to replicate my sister’s drop off experience… almost.

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  1. September 21, 2010
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