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Parents wanting to send their children to some of Auckland's prestigious state schools may be forced to fork out more than $2m to buy a house in the zone, or more than $700 a week in rent - double the cost ten years ago. Figures from property analysis site Relab.co.nz which analysed 33 Auckland school zones showed buying a home was more costly close to higher decile schools. Topping the list were two decile nine school zones, Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar - with median values topping $2m last year.

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In theory, decile ratings indicate only how wealthy a school's students are. However in practice, many families try to get their children into the highest decile schools - especially in Auckland - which then forces up property prices within those school zones. The price of a three-bedroom home in the Auckland Grammar zone, which covered Remuera, Parnell, Newmarket and Epsom, was $2.09m - almost double the $1.11m median value in 2006. In the Epsom Girls Grammar zone around Epsom, Greenlane, Mt Eden, Remuera, Newmarket and Parnell, it was $2.04m - also close to double its median value of $1.06m in 2006. Of the suburbs in the two zones, none topped $2m; the closest was Remuera with a QV median home valuation of $1.98m. A Remuera home owner who moved into the double Grammar zone nearly eight years ago told the Herald the school zone was part of the reason she and her husband bought their house. "We knew it was Grammar zone and so we thought it would be a wise investment to buy a double Grammar zone property," said Alison, who asked for her last name not to be published. The suburb's popularity had grown since she had been there because of its location and proximity to public transport, motorways and shops as well as good schools, she said. "I often look out the window and see mothers walking their children up to school." Relab marketing director Bill Ma said the figures showed parents what they should be budgeting for. "The higher decile schools definitely come with a premium price." Ma said not all Auckland schools were able to be analysed as a number had been built recently and others had geographical features that posed risked unfairly skewing the data analysis. Property Institute of New Zealand chief executive officer Ashley Church said there was no question school zones influenced prices. "It would be interesting to see how Auckland would have developed had there not been school zoning," he said. "The phenomenon is to some degree getting out of control - relative to what you are paying in other parts of the city." Unfortunately Church said prices left little option beyond renting for parents on limited budgets. Relab.co.nz figures showed renting an average 3-bedroom house could set parents back $700 to $900/week. Bucking the sales trends were two mid-low decile schools at the top of the rentals list; Auckland Girls' Grammar (decile three) cost about $841/week in rent in 2016; Selwyn College (decile four) cost around $895/week. Both schools have traditionally taken students from across the city, which makes their decile ranking lower than it would normally be for their neighbourhood. Top decile schools, Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar followed in third place, both costing about $777/week. Mangere Budgeting Services Trust CEO Darryl Evans, said the cost of living in these schools zones had led to some parents resorting to desperate measures to make ends meet. He described some sending children into part-time work to help pay the bills; others scrimped on healthy food; for others fun outings and extra-curricular activities were out of the question. Another family was caught out in a lie about where they lived after an unexpected school visit, while yet another had saved all they could to get just one of their children into a private school - in the hopes they'd have a good career and support the rest of the family in the future. "It's incredibly difficult...we hear this fairly regularly." Professor John O'Neill, director of Massey University's Institute of Education said school enrolment was no longer "just an educational issue, but a housing affordability issue". He said luxury of choice was largely in the hands of those who were wealthy. "Everyone else is struggling, even in low decile areas, or areas of socio-economic disadvantage, this hasn't stopped rentals increasing or competition for accommodation. "Higher decile schools became larger and lower decile schools smaller and really it's either schools choosing in terms of who manages to enroll now, or it's what people have in their wallet that chooses." Figures from Relab.co.nz showed even schools at the lower end of the scale were well above the nationwide average of $631,302. The cheapest area was Manurewa High School's zone which included Manurewa, Wiri and Manukau, with the median value of a three bedroom house in 2016 of $764,532 in 2016. The QV median values of all three suburbs were all below $650,000. O'Neill said the idea that higher decile schools and those with higher pass rates were "better" ignored the value that lower decile schools could add to its communities. "None of that measures the value added by the school; just that you have greater concentrations of aspirational families and children who have richer kinds of supports round than you do in poorer areas." According to the Ministry of Education, school deciles weren't reflective of the quality of education, but were a measure of the socio-economic position of its community. Decile one schools had the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic communities and also got the most funding from the ministry.

Zoning puts school under pressure too

The high house prices in the area didn't come as a surprise to Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor. Many parents were willing to make sacrifices to move in zone, he said. "I speak regularly to parents who approach me to tell me that they have deliberately made that decision and largely they're people who are renting and are paying more than they want and more than they can afford. "What we're now seeing is exorbitant rental prices that are having an impact on people's abilities to do that. "It is a state education, so it comes with limited costs once they're in. So parents are prepared to fund their way in by paying a high rental or to purchase." The school offered places to 50 out of zone boys this year, more than any other year in the five that O'Connor had been headmaster. "I think that's probably a direct ramification of people who have in the past actually shifted in zone because they have wanted to access a particular style of education - the single-sex, traditional boys' education and are just simply saying now 'I can't afford that'," he said. O'Connor told the Herald more and more apartments were being built in the area and he was concerned on the effect that would have on the school's roll. "There's no doubt that the apartments that are being built around us are all advertising as Grammar zone and have target markets of families who are wanting to send their sons to Grammar." There was little the school could do for parents who were out of zone and wanted to send their sons to Grammar, O'Connor said. "The reality is that we are totally restricted by the zone that has been put upon us by the Ministry of Education and the Government. "There's nothing we can do to support families unfortunately. They need to live in zone or they need to apply for a place off the ballot and be lucky enough to win one."