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Poverty rates released for Upstate school districts

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CANTON - The portion of St. Lawrence County school-age students living below the federal poverty level ranges from a low of 16.27 percent in the Canton Central School District to a high of 35.92 percent at Hermon-DeKalb Central, according to a Buffalo-based business magazine.

Business First magazine used U.S. Census data from 2012 to rank 455 upstate public school districts and reported their findings by region in a story released earlier this month.

School districts in St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis counties are categorized together in the Watertown region.

In Jefferson County, the poverty rate ranges from 10.26 percent in LaFargeville to a high of 37.52 percent in Belleville Henderson. In Lewis County, Beaver River had the lowest poverty rate at 12.93 percent while Copenhagen had the highest at 22.18 percent.

Upstate’s highest poverty rate belongs to Utica City School District at 43.86 percent, according to the report.

The data includes all children ages 5 to 17 living in a school district, including those not enrolled in public schools such as Amish children and those who are homeschooled.

Ann M. Adams, superintendent at Hermon-Dekalb Central School, said she wasn’t surprised that her district had the highest poverty rate in St. Lawrence County.

“We have about 60 percent of our students eligible for free and reduced lunch,” Ms. Adams said. “We face the challenges of finding enough money to fund basic education for our students.”

In her district, a 1 percent increase in the school tax levy only generates $22,000 in revenue, she said.

Two Albany suburbs have Upstate’s lowest poverty rates, Niskayuna, 4.28 percent and Shenendehowa at 4.58 percent.

The poverty data illustrates the wide variation in community wealth that exists in New York state, said Richard G. Timbs, executive director of the New York State School Finance Consortium.

Although poverty is one of the factors included in the state aid formula, Mr. Timbs argues it should play a larger role because students in poorer communities typically need more support services than their wealthier counterparts. Low and average-wealth school districts have been hit hard in the past few years by cuts in state aid.

“Poverty has to be accounted for in a different way,” Mr. Timbs said. “This data is another clue that shows the diversity in Upstate New York. There is quite a bit of diversity and there are pockets of real poverty.”

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