Saratoga students opt out of public school program

October 12, 2017 — by Anishi Patel and Elaine Sun

As high school junior Nikhil Dharmaraj rushes out of his house in Saratoga in the morning, he drives past the tan cinder block buildings of Saratoga High School, continuing down Saratoga Sunnyvale Road toward San Jose.

Dharmaraj, a student at The Harker School’s upper campus, said he prefers his private school for its “sheer range of options.”

Harker offers more elective classes than Saratoga High, with options like AP Latin, Honors Data Structures and English 4 Madness in Literature available to students.

But, with the annual tuition for a year at Harker being $45,877, the price of this private school education is high. Other private schools in the area (such as BASIS Independent, St. Francis High School, Archbishop Mitty High School, Bellarmine College Preparatory, Castilleja or Presentation High School) have annual tuition prices ranging anywhere from $17,980-$45,900. Harker tops out at one of the most expensive private schools in the Silicon Valley.

As a result of high prices for private school educations, most families living in Saratoga choose the highly regarded local public school system. Some families even move to Saratoga precisely for the excellence of its public school system, and most residents willingly pay high property taxes and purchase multimillion dollar homes.

Most properties in Saratoga range from $2-$3 million. Owners of those properties usually pay about a 1 percent annual property tax that goes largely toward funding the local public schools. That means, for instance, that a house purchased for $2.5 million would cost the owners $25,000 in annual property taxes.

However, families like Dharmaraj’s decide to send their children to private schools, paying property taxes toward public schools and the tuition for enrollment.

But Dharmaraj hasn’t always been a private school student. He lived in Saratoga until he was 3 years old, and attended Blue Hills Elementary, a small public school in Saratoga that is part of the Cupertino Union School District,  until third grade, after which he switched to Harker.

“I moved schools mainly because we had heard from a family friend that Harker is a really challenging school, and I wanted to try it out,” Dharmaraj said. “I ended up really liking it, and since then, I’ve just stuck with that choice.”

He participates in and enjoys many of his school’s activities, such as robotics, Junior Classical League Club and speech and debate.

Smita Dharmaraj, his mother, said she has supported her children’s decision to attend a private school because her son and daughter both enjoy Harker’s teachers and classes.

Unlike Dharmaraj, Saratoga High junior William Liu found his private school experience less ideal. Liu, who went to BASIS Independent for eighth grade, found the classes difficult and the faculty support network lacking.

“The staff was bad, the teaching wasn’t great and the atmosphere there wasn’t great either because there was just a ton of competition between students,” Liu said. “It was very self-taught because of how bad the teachers were.”

The curriculum at BASIS Independent is scheduled to end in 11th grade, so that 12th grade can be an exploratory year for students to do more research. This means that the classes are faster paced to help students finish high school a year early.

“They make you take AP World History in eighth grade, and they had really tough classes that were mandatory,” Liu said. “Kids took AP tests in middle school, too.”

He prefers the calmer academic atmosphere of Saratoga High to the high pressure middle school students faced at BASIS.

Compared to other public schools, Saratoga High ranks 20th overall in California, according to, making it a top public school.

“Even though I don’t go to a Saratoga school, I love living in Saratoga,” Dharmaraj said. “No matter what school we go to I think we can all agree that Saratoga’s a great city.”


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