GR Magazine ranks area schools, suburbs

June 26, 2010
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The lead CPA who crunched the numbers for Grand Rapids Magazine’s annual rankings of public school districts and biannual ranking of suburbs said the market-driven information offers “a huge data set compiled and put into one place.”

“It shows how local communities stack up in a variety of areas,” said Eric Larson, a CPA at Beene Garter LLP who has more than 13 years of practical and theoretical experience in the field with a focus on financial valuation and corporate financial analysis.

“The aspect that provides the most value is that it’s a great accumulation of data across the whole metro area. A reader can look at the rankings and see that they have value, but at the same time they can say, ‘How do these particular areas that are more important to me compare across regions.’”

Larson noted an objective look at the data “shows some dramatic differences between the different units, and in other categories the scores are very close together.”

The annual City Guide issue of Grand Rapids Magazine arrived in subscribers’ homes last week and hits the newsstands early this week, detailing such market-driven data as school district student performance, community involvement trends, property taxes, housing and safety concerns.

The magazine’s report measures environmental impacts in the city and suburbs, as well as age and population demographics and how they may have been impacted by the area’s struggling economy.

The documentation provides a snapshot of the area’s economic health, along with quality of life comparisons in three counties, 29 school districts and 96 communities.

“It’s the most comprehensive snapshot of the region,” said Grand Rapids Magazine and Business Journal Editor Carole Valade. “And it’s the most exhaustive research project compiled by the magazine — or any publication.”

Outlined in detailed charts, the rankings are based on raw data from Grand Rapids Magazine research. Beene Garter provided technical assistance in establishing a bell curve of weights for various categories to determine the rankings.

The research confirmed that overall housing starts are down in West Michigan, except for pockets where incremental growth took place. These include the cities of Grand Rapids, Hudsonville, Rockford and Lowell, the townships of Grand Rapids, Jamestown, Lowell, Oakfield, Plainfield, Solon, Sparta and Spencer, and the village of Sparta.

“Everyone is well aware the housing market nationwide and in Michigan has had a dramatic impact on the economy and is a key factor as to what has gone on,” Larson said. “Some regions fared better than others with significant consideration given to property values, taxes, housing activity and foreclosures. Those remain big issues in the economy right now.”

Property values, as might be expected, are plummeting. Steep declines from 2007-2008 in per-parcel property values, including vacant land, were found in Algoma Township (6.2 percent), Alpine Township (6.7 percent), Cedar Springs (7.4 percent), Grand Rapids Township (7.8 percent), Grandville (6.6 percent), Hudsonville (6.4 percent), Rockford (6.9 percent) and Wyoming (7.4 percent).

The economic downturn is reflected dramatically in a number of stark comparisons from 2008. For instance, East Grand Rapids’ average household income in the 2010-11 ranking is listed at $94,857, while the same figure two years ago was at $128,194. This was the most significant factor in East Grand Rapids dropping from 10th to 20th in the Metro Rankings Community Snapshots detailed in the magazine. East GR remained, however, at the top of the Report Cards for Area Schools as outlined in the compilation.

Jamestown Township in Ottawa County, which saw its population increase 24.5 percent from 2000 to 2008, emerged as the top community in the Metro Rankings, rising from No. 19 two years ago. Jamestown residents include students attending both Hudsonville (ranked fifth in the school Report Card) and Grandville (seventh) school districts.

Based on 2009 figures from the Michigan Department of Education, almost all school districts in the area lost students compared to 2008. The exceptions included only Forest Hills, Hudsonville, Comstock Park, Byron Center, Rockford and Caledonia. The majority of school districts, however, improved their average ACT scores for spring 2009 compared to 2008. The number of districts with 100 percent of teachers determined to be “highly qualified” also improved significantly. That’s now essential, as almost every district also reported a higher student-to-teacher ratio compared to figures from 2007.

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