"Finding the Right School System During Relocation." By William L. Bainbridge. Compensation and Benefits Management. Autumn 1988.

Finding the Right School System During Relocation

William L. Bainbridge

Finding the right school system is a major concern for many employees

who are being recruited or relocated. This article examines how

companies can help employees meet this critical need.

It is common for a family that moves into a new school district to experience problems. One or more of its children may show up in the office because of academic, social, or disciplinary difficulties, although they were almost always normal, well-adjusted students in their old schools. The reason is that when they moved into the new community and the new school system, the change was so dramatic that the children could not cope with it effectively. The effects of moving on children are widespread and well-documented in the professional literature.


Most parents on the move rely on real estate brokers, new co-workers, and personal research to steer them to communities with good school districts, but although this information may be helpful, it is rarely accurate or comprehensive. In large metropolitan areas, the educational options available are often too numerous to explore. For instance, within a 60-mile radius of Trenton, New Jersey, there are 598 public school systems. Within 10 miles of Barrington, Illinois, a suburb west of Chicago, there are 55 public school systems. (See Exhibit 1 for a listing of school systems in major metropolitan areas; exhibits appear at the end of this article.)


Perhaps more than any other group in society, school administrators are acutely aware of what can and does happen when a family moves into a school and community setting that is not suited to its needs. They must deal with problems related to such a mismatch on almost a daily basis.

That is why several leading school officials decided three years ago to do something to help parents identify school systems that are compatible with the needs and expectations of their children. The result was the creation of a counseling service that enables a family to match up with the most compatible school setting anywhere in the nation.

SchoolMatch, which is based in Westerville, Ohio, uses a comprehensive database to allow comparison of more than 15,000 public school systems across the country and more than 13,000 private schools throughout the world.

Parents using the program complete a 22-question form on the kind of school system they want, indicating how many miles they are willing to commute to their new jobs. Within 24 hours they receive a printed report containing information about the most compatible school districts in the desired geographic area.

Personal counseling is offered to working parents who are being transferred. Employees can voice their concerns about moving their children into a new school system and receive the guidance they need to create a profile of the kind of schools that are best suited for the familiesí needs.


The service shifts the focus on moving from house-hunting to community-hunting, by asking families to address "quality-of-life issues." The answers a family provides can help determine in which community that specific family, with its unique needs, will feel most comfortable.

Along with specifics about the schools and educational programs themselves, information is provided about communities, ranging from the percentage of school-aged children within a district to per capita income of its residents. (See Exhibit 2.)


According to the Washington-based Employee Relocation Council, it costs an employer an average of $44,000 to relocate an employee. SchoolMatch costs less than $100 per employee choosing to use the service. More than 60 Fortune 500 companies and several small businesses provide this as an employee benefit.


Hewlett-Packard Co. of Palo Alto, California, started offering the service as part of its relocation package early in 1987, according to Carol Nakamoto, the firmís worldwide relocation manager.

The company decided to offer the service as a way to improve the benefits offered to families it was relocating. Hewlett-Packard is designing its relocation package with the whole family in mind. If a move goes smoothly, the transferee is productive on the job sooner. Hewlett-Packard wants to ensure that its employees make a smooth transition to their new locations.

The service is offered to all transferred within the United States and to all new hires. Next year it will be expanded to include employees who are moved abroad.

Southern Bell Telephone

Marilyn Skinner, former Assistant Staff Director at Southern Bell Telephone, a company that relocates between 200 and 250 families each year, explains that for many of the employees, finding the right schools for their children is the number one concern in relocating. She notes that most families need guidance to determine what questions should be answered before choosing a school district and a community.

According to Skinner, the service allows employees to zero in on a district before they make any contact with a real estate agent. At a time when parents could easily become wrapped up in the move and their new jobs, Skinner sees the service as a way to focus attention on the children. Because the questionnaire provides a focus for family discussion, it has the potential to facilitate communication within families.

Ford Motor Company

When Don Sparkman was transferred from St. Louis to Detroit, he was anxious to find schools to suit his children. Without independent, objective help, he found selecting a school a big gamble.

Sparkman recalled an earlier move that put his family in a school district that was off-target. He had been transferred from Jacksonville to St. Louis, a town he and his family were unfamiliar with. The family relied on what other people told them in seeking a community with good schools. Sparkman points out that in such a situation, a relocating family is making decisions based on the judgment of others. His family was happy with the new home and community they selected, but disappointed in the schools.

With this yearís move, the Sparkmans worked with a professional service and decided on a specific suburb of Detroit about 25 minutes from Donís job at the Ford Motor Company. The Sparkmans are happy with the move they have made and the quality education their children are receiving, and the children have adapted well to their new schools.

Exhibit 1

Public School Systems and Private Schools by Metropolitan Areas

Metropolitan Area; Selected Major Public School Systems; Private Schools

  1. Albany, N.Y. 84 92
  2. Albuquerque, N.M. 5 19
  3. Atlanta, Ga. 19 50
  4. Baltimore, Md. 13 282
  5. Birmingham, Ala. 15 25
  6. Boise, Idaho 15 12
  7. Boston, Mass. 201 344
  8. Buffalo, N.Y. 50 150
  9. Charlotte, N.C. 13 20
  10. Charleston, S.C. 267 688
  11. Chicago, Ill. 267 688
  12. Cincinnati, Ohio 79 167
  13. Cleveland, Ohio 91 233
  14. Columbus, Ohio 53 60
  15. Dallas, Tex. 62 103
  16. Denver, Col. 23 74
  17. Des Moines, Iowa 43 24
  18. Detroit, Mich. 93 273
  19. Duluth, Minn. 13 10
  20. Erie, Pa. 24 37
  21. Hartford, Conn. 133 203
  22. Honolulu, Hawaii 1 51
  23. Houston, Tex. 33 94
  24. Indianapolis, Inc. 50 59
  25. Jackson, Miss. 10 35
  26. Jacksonville, Fla. 3 30
  27. Kansas City, Mo. 57 87
  28. Las Vegas, Nev. 1 10
  29. Little Rock, Ark. 28 21
  30. Los Angeles, Cal. 100 495
  31. Madison, Wis. 47 34
  32. Memphis, Tenn. 15 32
  33. Miami, Fla. 2 119
  34. Milwaukee, Wis. 77 212
  35. Minneapolis, Minn. 60 162
  36. Nashville, Tenn. 11 41
  37. New Orleans, La. 6 142
  38. New York City/Newark 377 1,372
  39. Norfolk, Va. 13 30
  40. Omaha, Neb. 40 71
  41. Philadelphia, Pa. 204 546
  42. Phoenix, Ariz. 49 49
  43. Pittsburgh, Pa. 104 288
  44. Portland, Me. 48 24
  45. Portland, Ore. 83 62
  46. Providence, R.I. 195 326
  47. Richmond, Va. 17 30
  48. St. Louis, Mo. 91 308
  49. Sacramento, Cal. 52 51
  50. Salt Lake City, Utah 14 14
  51. San Antonio, Tex. 32 71
  52. San Diego, Cal. 35 71
  53. San Francisco, Cal. 92 251
  54. Scranton, Pa. 35 73
  55. Seattle, Wash. 50 104
  56. Spokane, Wash. 20 23
  57. Syracuse, N.Y. 53 51
  58. Tallahassee, Fla. 7 8
  59. Tampa, Fla. 4 73
  60. Trenton, N.J. 227 526
  61. Tucson, Ariz. 12 21
  62. Tulsa, Okla. 53 18
  63. Washington, D.C. 15 270
  64. Wheeling, W. Va. 10 45


Exhibit 2

School and Community Factors

  • Test scores
  • Boarding versus day
  • Class size
  • Boarding region
  • School system size
  • Day region
  • School building size
  • Program preference
  • School system awards
  • Religious preference
  • Elementary school accreditation
  • Boy/girl ratio
  • Children enrolled in the system
  • School size
  • Expenditures per pupil
  • Class size
  • Instruction, teacher salaries, library
  • Competition for admissions
  • Media services, school buildings
  • Academic rigor
  • Facilities, guidance and counseling
  • College admission
  • Psychological services, and vocational facilities
  • Advanced faculty degrees
  • Percentage of families with school-age children
  • Specific facilities
  • Student expenses
  • Home property values; Financial assistance
  • Per capita income; Courses offered
  • Educational level of residents; Athletic programs
  • Tax base; Transportation
  • Dress code
  • Environmental setting
  • Disciplinary procedure
  • Community service
  • Religious service
  • Academic assistance