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Retiring with Kids Dilemma
Old 04-26-2012, 10:33 AM   #1
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Retiring with Kids Dilemma

I'm hoping to retire in 5-6 years at which time my kids will be 7 and 8 respectively. In budgeting out a FIRE'd life, its obvious that housing costs are a major factor in whether I'll be able to FIRE. The problem I'm encountering is that every place in a 30 mile radius of where I live (DC) with an excellent school district is like $200K more expensive housing-wise than a place with a mediocre school system.

I would feel really guilty retiring some place with so-so public schools just to allow me to stop working. Has anyone else encountered this problem where they live and have any advice?

I suppose the obvious solution is to move some place cheaper, e.g. a Pittsburgh suburb, but I'm not great at meeting new friends and I'd have to move there after I FIRE'd which would be more disruptive to the kids than moving some place in the surrounding area while I was still working and before they hit kindergarten...
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:52 AM   #2
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I am in a similar situation and also looking at Pittsburgh. I have been retired for almost 25 years and have a 23 y/o daughter who excelled in a mediocre school district and was a straight A student at UMICH (Ann Arbor) and is now completing her PHD at U of Denver. Coincidentally, we both went to the same High School and I managed to retire first in my class at 34. I have a 6 year old (first grade) attends private school as there is no public system to speak of and we intend to put him in a public High School along with our future child.

From all the studies I have read, the school system itself is not that important. Parents influence is the overriding factor in a child's education along with a safe environment.

The advantage you will have is being a bigger part of your children's lives/the ability to help them learn and excel and teaching them the fiscal discipline that allowed you to ER.
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:55 AM   #3
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While not applicable to everyone, when DH retired and I semi-retired this allowed us the time to home school our daughter so school district was not highly relevant to us in buying a house (that said, for resale purposes, I would still consider it in buying a house).
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Old 04-26-2012, 01:28 PM   #4
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what I don't understand is what make a school "good" or "great" and what makes it "mediocre" or "so-so"? Is it the neighborhood which surrounds the school? Is it the soccer mom's and trophy husbands which are able to pour in countless hours into the PTA? is it the teachers which cannot afford the rent within reasonable proximity to the school and have a 45 min commute? or is it the rich parents who gush money into the athletic programs so each pupil can have their name embroidered on their uniform?

When we moved last year, DW exclaimed, "our kids are going to go to a ghetto high school." The school is in the same district she attended high school and yet, in a predominantly Caucasian upper middle class suburb of salt lake city, we have a ghetto high school. With my father in law constantly harping on the gangs in the area. Which leads me to believe what makes a school "good" or "so-so" is in the qualitative factors assigned by those unqualified to make them in the first place (e.g. soccer mom's not liking the smudges on the trophy case, which, btw, is full of third place trophies).

While I am sure there are extreme cases and I understand not wanting to subject your kids to bodily harm, outside of that, how is a school deemed to be "good"? My opinion is the best thing you can do for your kid's education is be there for them and have the time to support them through school.
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Old 04-26-2012, 01:36 PM   #5
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I am in a similar situation and also looking at Pittsburgh. I have been retired for almost 25 years and have a 23 y/o daughter who excelled in a mediocre school district and was a straight A student at UMICH (Ann Arbor) and is now completing her PHD at U of Denver. Coincidentally, we both went to the same High School and I managed to retire first in my class at 34. I have a 6 year old (first grade) attends private school as there is no public system to speak of and we intend to put him in a public High School along with our future child.

From all the studies I have read, the school system itself is not that important. Parents influence is the overriding factor in a child's education along with a safe environment.

The advantage you will have is being a bigger part of your children's lives/the ability to help them learn and excel and teaching them the fiscal discipline that allowed you to ER.
Are you planning on moving back to the states?
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Old 04-26-2012, 01:48 PM   #6
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What makes a good school system is the ability of its administration to identify a set of measurements that make it appear so. These would be standardized test scores, percent accepted to universities, number or percent of students enrolled in AP classes, student achievements in regional competitions, number of academic and non-academic activities that students engage in outside of normal school hours. The better schools also have a superior ability to minimize those aspects in which they are unremarkable.

The cost of a house plus taxes and upkeep to access one school district is probably comparable to the cost of a less expensive house plus tuition at a parochial school. Most schools, no matter how good, aren't so good as to compensate for an unmotivated student. Likewise, a big difference between schools in higher and lower property tax areas is not academics but extra-curricular activities and resources.
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Old 04-26-2012, 02:05 PM   #7
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Many years ago I moved from a nice town to another nice town, but considerably more expensive housing....because of the schools. I think what makes for a good school system is: schools that teach academics (vs. feel-good studies), learning and good grades are demanded and considered something to be proud of, and finally the community's families have similar values regarding education.
I expect to retire next year. No doubt that retirement timeframe could have been sooner had we not moved, but both of my now adult kids thrived in the new schools and both are successful. That was well worth it to me, as a parent.
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Old 04-26-2012, 02:20 PM   #8
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Let me put in a plug for Pittsburgh for those who are considering it. I have lived here for over 10 years and life here is, in a word, easy. Big enough city to have a lot of cultural and sporting events, several top notch universities, great up and coming restaurant scene. But not too big, making traffic manageable and easy security lines at the airport. I don't know if this is quite true, but people say it is the next Portland. I live just on the border of the city and my neighbors have "urban chickens", so maybe not too far off.

I don't have kids but I know Upper St. Clair, one of the school districts in the southern suburbs, consistently ranks as the top public school district in the state.
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Old 04-26-2012, 02:22 PM   #9
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My sister and her family moved from here, where they were paying for pricy but fairly average private schools, to Vermont where the public schools are amazing. Huge cost savings overall and the kids are flourishing.
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Old 04-26-2012, 02:22 PM   #10
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hi alexbalex, i don't have any advice, but a lot of empathy as i'm in almost exactly the same situation: i plan/hope to retire at the end of 2016, when my kids will be 6 and 8. and i currently live inside the DC beltway in a neighborhood with a (seemingly) decent elementary school but middle and high schools that look pretty bad. i'm eyeing howard county, centennial school district, and figuring i'll have to spend an extra $100k to move there. been thinking about trying to buy a house there now, and rent it out until I am ready to retire and move, then maybe rent out my current house. but not sure i really want to deal with being a landlord.
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Old 04-26-2012, 02:30 PM   #11
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I think what makes for a good school system is: schools that teach academics (vs. feel-good studies), learning and good grades are demanded and considered something to be proud of, and finally the community's families have similar values regarding education. ...
+1

I think the latter is the blessing and the curse of towns with highly rated school districts--it can create a very competitive academic experience, especially in high schools where class ranking is done. And the families tend to be more affluent (they can afford the higher property cost and the taxes), and that creates some peer issues that can be difficult to counter within the family.
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Old 04-26-2012, 03:06 PM   #12
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Being skeptical about what is a good school system is reasonable, but IMO usually mistaken. How many National Merit Finalists are there? How many bad boys? How many AP courses/ Are they well supported? What % of graduates go to 4 year colleges, and what % go to elite colleges?

Visit the school and get a feel of how the students dress, act in the halls, and act as they leave school in the afternoon. Go to some PTA meetings, try to get the high school newspaper.

Most cities have at least several high quality, suburban schools with mostly affluent, professional and achievement oriented families. These are usually good. Also a high proportion of East and South Asian students usually means that the students will be academically oriented, and push the overall level of expectation and achievement higher.

I can absolutely testify from my own experience that schools in general and high schools in particular vary tremendously in what they can and will deliver. I went to an academically strict Catholic elementary school, then on to public high school in perhaps the best school district with the richest families on the south side of a river. My freshman classes were easier and the students less able than my former 6th grade class. We then moved north of the river, and I went to a very large in city public high school as a junior. My father, a dyed in the wool LBYMer (mistakenly) believed that the local school was fine, and it was certainly cheaper. (On this last point he was correct, but dead wrong on the first point.) I figured that I would be lucky to survive the social and racial system here, so I refused to go back after 2 weeks. My mother, acting without my father's knowledge, managed to get me set up to take the entrance exam at a magnet school in early September. I passed it, and was admitted to this school. My Mom had to take me a few miles across town, and later I found friends from the neighborhood who drove and I was able to ride with them. It was night and day. My time in the high school south of the river was a total waste, but by really buckling down I was able to catch up. The students were very academically oriented, and very respectful of academic achievement. Their parents were the same. The teachers were talented, respectful, and intelligent and fully prepared in their specialties, not mainly teaching methods.

I still look forward to seeing these high quality people, whenever I get the chance. Year in and year out this school ranks very high in various ranking systems like US News. The alumni give money to supplement the taxpayer support, and it is not a fluke. Like any system of excellence, there are reasons, and they matter.

Ha
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Old 04-26-2012, 03:46 PM   #13
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Some really good advice by people thus far, thanks everyone. I tend to agree with Ha and others that the school and the students that would be my kids' peers really matters. Parental involvement obviously matters too, but its not going to alleviate all of the impact stemming from a so-so school district.

Like it or not, I may need to work extra years to ensure my kids the best opportunities I can.
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Old 04-26-2012, 04:45 PM   #14
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Are you planning on moving back to the states?
Not if I can help it!

It is a difficult decision and one that we will be wrestling with for the next few years. Both of us think it is important that our children obtain a University degree in the States. In Peru Multi-Lingual US/European educated adults command salaries here equal to major US cities with far lower cost of living.

My son will be fluent in English/Spanish/Portuguese.

My YW would like to experience all 4 seasons, gain US work experience (which would command a premium when we returned to Lima.

Me, I would not mind getting back into skiing but life is pretty sweet now regardless.

The current candidates are Pittsburgh, Rochester/Minneapolis and possibly a few other Mid-Western cities.

Pittsburgh is high on the list as we are interested in Health Services careers for YW and I have contacts at the Universities and Hospitals there. I also have a good friend from Lima who has been buying up dilapidated buildings for a future downtown condo project and has been begging me to get onboard.

While YW & DS would live there for the school year, I have contemplated setting up a hedge fund here to invest in Pittsburgh, allowing me to come and go as I want.

However, there are health care issues for YW and DS, which although costly are not insurmountable due to their young ages.

Lastly, there are the tax issues which as you know I have successfully avoided for many years. If YW gets a green card it is a game changer that will require a lot of planning.
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Old 04-26-2012, 07:54 PM   #15
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My kids are 5 and 7 right now, and moving to a new city for better schools wouldn't be horribly upsetting I don't think. For $200,000 (delta between a house with good schools vs mediocre schools), I would most likely move. Pop those savings in a college savings account and you can probably give them a full ride wherever they want when they turn 18.

As kids get older and form deeper friendships and relationships, moving would be harder.

As for settling for merely average schools vs extremely great schools, I am not sure how much change I would be willing to undergo. In fact, our local state universities have set asides for kids from all over the state, so applicants from average schools and average school districts have a better chance of getting in to highly selective universities as compared to their peers coming from very high performing high schools.

But I would definitely take steps to avoid "ghetto schools" where there is very little focus on academics and possible safety risks. We live in a lower income area, and our neighborhood school is the poorest school in a great school district (out of over 100 elementary schools in the district). Over 80% get free/reduced lunch (the district's surrogate metric of family income). But after visiting the school, seeing the quality and enthusiasm of teachers and principals, all the extra funding and grants dumped on them, and the small student body and small class sizes, we felt comfortable sending the kids to the school in spite of what we assumed about the school's demographics. It turned out to be a prescient choice, as the school has been rapidly improving in test scores and reputation is now a competitive, over-enrolled school after just a few years. The kids are in class with students from all over the world (Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, central and South America), and as a result the cultural learning is awesome. And that isn't even the focus of the school's curriculum. My advice would be to determine whether the local school(s) is really a rough school, or merely an unpolished gem.
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Old 04-26-2012, 09:31 PM   #16
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I'm hoping to retire in 5-6 years at which time my kids will be 7 and 8 respectively. In budgeting out a FIRE'd life, its obvious that housing costs are a major factor in whether I'll be able to FIRE. The problem I'm encountering is that every place in a 30 mile radius of where I live (DC) with an excellent school district is like $200K more expensive housing-wise than a place with a mediocre school system.
In "The Two-Income Trap", Elizabeth Warren claims that this is what's making the homes more expensive. The school drives up the neighborhood reputation and parents are willing to work for two paychecks to afford the "good school".

Nurture vs nature author Judith Harris also claims that your kid's friends will have more of an influence on their development than you will. About all you can do is try to choose a good neighborhood/school and hope that that your kid runs with the right posse. Additional research was documented on this hypothesis by Will Smith and Quincy Jones in "Fresh Prince of Bel Air"...


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Originally Posted by ronocnikral View Post
what I don't understand is what make a school "good" or "great" and what makes it "mediocre" or "so-so"? Is it the neighborhood which surrounds the school? Is it the soccer mom's and trophy husbands which are able to pour in countless hours into the PTA? is it the teachers which cannot afford the rent within reasonable proximity to the school and have a 45 min commute? or is it the rich parents who gush money into the athletic programs so each pupil can have their name embroidered on their uniform?
My opinion is the best thing you can do for your kid's education is be there for them and have the time to support them through school.
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I would feel really guilty retiring some place with so-so public schools just to allow me to stop working. Has anyone else encountered this problem where they live and have any advice?
E komo mai Hawaii!

Our neighborhood's public school was once again declared the best in the state. Part of it is the parents, but I think a big part of it is motivating the teachers. In this case the teachers get extra pay for advanced degrees, certification to teach/grade AP exams, and extracurricular activities (sports, robot team).

It's been well-known for years that "our school" is desirable by the number of students applying for geographic exceptions. Most of them were granted for the marching band or for the language courses.

I think there are three criteria that most mortal parents can access and compare:
1. The number of AP courses taught in the high school.
2. The % of 9th graders who graduate on time. (In other words, how many kids drop out of school after 8th grade.)
3. The % of seniors who graduate on time.
4. The % of graduates who attend a college.

Whether the school's effect comes from the parents or the teachers, the result should be in the numbers.

If the school doesn't release those numbers well... there's your answer.

I think another big help is math/reading tutoring programs like Kumon/Sylvan.

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I am in a similar situation and also looking at Pittsburgh.
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I suppose the obvious solution is to move some place cheaper, e.g. a Pittsburgh suburb, but I'm not great at meeting new friends and I'd have to move there after I FIRE'd which would be more disruptive to the kids than moving some place in the surrounding area while I was still working and before they hit kindergarten...
Murrysville. 35 years ago Franklin Regional was a pretty good high school, and one of my old teachers rose to become a hotshot principal. Which would make her... well... gosh I hope she's retired now.
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:08 AM   #17
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Not if I can help it!

It is a difficult decision and one that we will be wrestling with for the next few years. Both of us think it is important that our children obtain a University degree in the States. In Peru Multi-Lingual US/European educated adults command salaries here equal to major US cities with far lower cost of living.

My son will be fluent in English/Spanish/Portuguese.

My YW would like to experience all 4 seasons, gain US work experience (which would command a premium when we returned to Lima.

Me, I would not mind getting back into skiing but life is pretty sweet now regardless.

The current candidates are Pittsburgh, Rochester/Minneapolis and possibly a few other Mid-Western cities.

Pittsburgh is high on the list as we are interested in Health Services careers for YW and I have contacts at the Universities and Hospitals there. I also have a good friend from Lima who has been buying up dilapidated buildings for a future downtown condo project and has been begging me to get onboard.

While YW & DS would live there for the school year, I have contemplated setting up a hedge fund here to invest in Pittsburgh, allowing me to come and go as I want.

However, there are health care issues for YW and DS, which although costly are not insurmountable due to their young ages.

Lastly, there are the tax issues which as you know I have successfully avoided for many years. If YW gets a green card it is a game changer that will require a lot of planning.
Sounds like you have lots to think about. Good luck.
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Old 04-27-2012, 07:43 AM   #18
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My kids are 5 and 7 right now, and moving to a new city for better schools wouldn't be horribly upsetting I don't think. For $200,000 (delta between a house with good schools vs mediocre schools), I would most likely move. Pop those savings in a college savings account and you can probably give them a full ride wherever they want when they turn 18.

As kids get older and form deeper friendships and relationships, moving would be harder.
Thanks Fuego, maybe I should be giving moving when I FIRE more serious consideration...
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Old 04-27-2012, 08:32 AM   #19
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+1

I think the latter is the blessing and the curse of towns with highly rated school districts--it can create a very competitive academic experience, especially in high schools where class ranking is done. And the families tend to be more affluent (they can afford the higher property cost and the taxes), and that creates some peer issues that can be difficult to counter within the family.
I agree with this perspective. Our school system is very competitive academically and athleticwise (pretty affulent community). They recently stopped ranking kids, since this had a bit of a negative affect on college admissions, as a kid could have a 95 avg and very strong SAT/ACT and still be in the bottom half of their class.
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