High performing school districts driving residential segregation

A new sociological study suggests schools are helping lead to residential segregation:

Study author Ann Owens, an assistant professor of sociology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, examined census data from 100 major U.S. metropolitan areas, from Los Angeles to Boston. She found that, among families with children, neighborhood income segregation is driven by increased income inequality in combination with a previously overlooked factor: school district options.

For families with high income, school districts are a top consideration when deciding where they will live, Owens said. And for those in large cities, they have multiple school districts where they could choose to buy homes.

Income segregation between neighborhoods rose 20 percent from 1990 to 2010, and income segregation between neighborhoods was nearly twice as high among households that have children compared to those without…

She recommended that educational leaders should consider redrawing boundaries to reduce the number and fragmentation of school districts in major metropolitan areas. They also should consider designing inter-district choice plans and strengthening current plans within districts to address inequities.

Generally, wealth and race leads to residential segregation but it is interesting to see through what mechanisms this works. As Bourdieu (and others) suggested, schools tend to reproduce existing social stratification and here they work to reify desirable housing locations.

What to do with closed schools

Once schools are closed, what should communities do with them?

One of the thorniest issues (in what is a veritable forest of mess) is what to do with those school buildings once they’re empty. Often, the facilities are in poor shape, with promised renovations put off quasi-indefinitely. Many are located in depressed neighborhoods. And there are only so many developers with the know-how and resources to convert classrooms into condos or a community center.

Then, there are often complex laws that limit who may or may not take over city-owned property. Some cities ban charter schools from moving into empty traditional schools (officials know that moving a new school into an old school can foment frustration with the district); others require time-consuming input from the community. Laws like these can tie school districts’ hands and slow re-development…

It’s not unusual for closed schools to sit empty for years at a time. A 2011 Pew Charitable Trusts report estimated that there were 200 vacant public school campuses in six cities — Philadelphia, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. — alone…

Kansas City isn’t the only place to have found success with school building conversions. In Chicago, one closed school became an Irish American Heritage Center with a library, museum, and regular step dancing performances. In Lansing, Michigan, an elementary school was turned into a hub for technology start-ups; another was converted into a business incubator. The third was reborn as a gym.

It sounds like the biggest issue is for cities to move relatively quickly when schools close and find new uses. In fact, the buildings might even generate a little income that could then help the cash-strapped cities that had to close schools in the first place. But, having no plan simply means communities lose potential opportunities.

With that in mind, what is Chicago planning to do with all the schools they just announced would be closing?

Behind the suburban scenes: Warrenville asks Naperville School District 203 to stop expensive lawsuit

I posted last November about a Warrenville newsletter where the mayor expressed his displeasure that a new Cantera business had invited the mayor of Naperville to its opening but not the mayor of Warrenville. I was surprised at the reaction, which was quite unusual to see in a newsletter to the whole community, but I wonder it might be tied to a eight-year expensive lawsuit over tax revenue from Cantera:

Warrenville officials are campaigning to end an eight-year court battle over taxes with a Naperville school district.

The case returns to court Thursday, two days after leaders of five government bodies in Warrenville presented the Naperville Unit District 203 school board with a letter saying the lawsuit concerning a special taxing district has cost all parties involved more than $803,000 since 2005…

The lawsuit was filed by the district in March 2005 over the use of funds from the Cantera tax increment financing district. The Cantera development now includes a theater, shops, restaurants and corporate offices and provides about $3.2 million a year in revenue to District 203. Dave Zager, the district’s chief financial officer, said the Naperville district will continue to collect property tax revenue from the development into the future, but the amount will vary.

However, the school district alleges in the suit it is owed more than it has received. Brummel maintains the funds from the TIF district have been distributed legally and at the advice of attorneys.

The case has been dismissed twice, but the school district appealed twice, and litigation has continued.

Warrenville, its park district, fire protection district, Wheaton-Warrenville School District 200 and the public library district have spent a combined $357,000 defending the case. Naperville Unit District 203 has spent about $446,000. Part of the Cantera site is in District 203, and part is in District 200.

On one hand, this sounds like a lot of money to spend on a lawsuit that has still not concluded, but, on the other hand, tax revenue is hard to come by these days and lots of school districts could use this kind of money. I wonder if the length of the lawsuit is also tied to the economic crisis of recent years; in better times, District 203 might be better able to lose this revenue.

This is the first time I’ve heard of this lawsuit. Large battles between suburbs or suburban governmental bodies are fairly rare.