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Top 10 most attractive school districts

(MoneyWatch) Where are the hottest places to live if you have a child in elementary school?


Parents are flocking to 10 small towns around the country, all located on the outer rings of larger cities, to raise their children. But it's not the low crime rates, big backyards and white picket fences that bring them here, it's the schools.


Parents want to raise their children in these school districts, as evidenced by the high proportion of school-age kids to pre-school age kids.


In areas where schools are less attractive, there tends to be more pre-school children then school-age children. For example, half as many school-age kids as preschool kids live in Hoboken, N.J., according to data compiled by real estate site Trulia. Compare that figure to the top town in this list, which has more than two school-age kids to every one preschooler.


In areas that have more preschoolers than school-age kids, parents are moving out of the area when it comes time to send their kids to school. That kind of trend is typically seen in more urban areas, where parents are comfortable toting around toddlers but may not trust the public schools.


"There are many reasons why they might leave, but school quality definitely matters," said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia.


After establishing the places where parents are moving in droves, Trulia compared the data to the school ratings on GreatSchools.org, a national school resource site where parents can read about and rate local schools.


Trulia found that the places on this list coincidentally have nearly perfect ratings at GreatSchools.org, which rates schools by how well their students perform on standardized tests. Hoboken's schools, on the other hand, average only a 2 or 3 on the site.


In addition to all of these places having high-quality schools, they shared other attributes, Kolko said.


"People look for more spread-out, not-as-dense areas," Kolko said. "People also look for more affordable neighborhoods, where they can get their own yard and their kids can have their own bedroom."


That's not to say these places are cheap, but they are places where your dollar stretches farther.


"Generally speaking, more attractive districts are more expensive; less expensive ones involve a longer commute," Kolko said. "For some parents, in a bigger city, it boils down to a choice between their kids' school and their commute."


The parents in these communities seem to be picking schools over commute--the suburbs average 40 miles outside the closest urban center.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

10. Warren Township School District, New Jersey

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 1.86

Price per square foot: $260

Located about 40 miles southwest of Manhattan, Warren, N.J. is a suburb with cul-de-sacs and golf courses. But it's also unique in that it has dozens of working farms and adopts a somewhat rural atmosphere, according to CNNMoney, which named the suburb its sixth best place to live in 2009. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 9.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

Trulia

9. Madison School District, Connecticut

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 1.87

Price per square foot: $204

Located along the Long Island Sound shoreline, Madison, Conn. might be a bit too far from New York City to be considered a suburb--it's nearly 100 miles away. The sea town is known for its extensive public beaches, including the state's longest, Hammonasset Beach State Park, and Surf Club Beach. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 10.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

Trulia

8. Colts Neck Township School District, New Jersey

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 1.87

Price per square foot: $252

Located in central New Jersey, Colts Neck still lives within the metropolitan area of New York, despite being almost 60 miles from the city. It is considered one of New Jersey's wealthiest communities and one of the more unique--the township has strict zoning laws that don't allow for many chain stores, letting more local stores thrive. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 8, though one of the schools was not rated.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

7. Hillsborough City Elementary School District, California

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 1.90

Price per square foot: $649

Sandwiched between two super-expensive cities--San Jose, Calif. and San Francisco--Hillsborough, Calif. is super wealthy itself. The landscape is dotted with huge houses because of zoning laws that require a 2,500-square foot minimum house size, which is close to the average American home size, and a minimum lot size of a half-acre. The city is located less than 20 miles from downtown San Francisco and about 40 miles from San Jose. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 10.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

6. Weston School District, Connecticut

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 1.92

Price per square foot: $258

Located between New Haven and Stamford, Weston, Conn. is yet another faraway New York City suburb on the list. It's a small, affluent community with little commercial development, which helps it maintain a rustic, rural feel. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 10.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

5. San Marino Unified School District, California

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 1.92

Price per square foot: $536

San Marino, Calif. breaks the trend of faraway suburbs on this list: It is only 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. San Marino was designed to be mostly residential with large properties surrounded by gardens, wide streets and maintained parkways, according to the city. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 10.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

Trulia

4. Glencoe School District 35, Illinois

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 1.93

Price per square foot: $277

Glencoe is a suburb of Chicago, in the affluent North Shore area along Lake Michigan. The largely residential community has a train stop that takes residents to Chicago's Loop 25 miles away. Most of its shopping and dining is small and local, clustered in a tiny downtown area. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 10.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

3. Cold Spring Harbor Central School District, New York

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 2.09

Price per square foot: $322

Another Long Island Sound community, Cold Spring Harbor is a hamlet of Huntington, N.Y. and is located a little less than 40 miles from Manhattan. The district draws students from Huntington, where the TV show "Growing Pains" was set, and Oyster Bay, along with a few other small hamlets. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 9.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

2. Lovejoy Independent School District, Texas

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 2.15

Price per square foot: $92

Located in the far northern suburbs of Dallas, Lovejoy Independent serves students in Fairview, Lucas and Allen, Texas. The communities have been rapidly growing over the past decade, thanks, in part, to the inexpensive real estate. At $92 per square foot, the area is far and away the least expensive place to live on this list. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 10.

Top 10 most attractive school districts

1. Saratoga Union Elementary School District, California

Ratio of school-age children to pre-school children: 2.38

Price per square foot: $603

Saratoga, Calif. is a bedroom community for Silicon Valley executives, located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although it's part of the San Francisco Bay Area, Saratoga is really a suburb of San Jose--it's 13 miles from downtown, but nearly 50 miles from San Francisco. Saratoga pitches itself as a San Francisco Bay Area getaway with world-class entertainment, a great location for weddings and a dog-friendly community, in that order. The district has a GreatSchools rating of 10.