Rural Schools Face Drop In Population, Increase In Poverty

Rural areas across the state are seeing a steep decline in population and issues with poverty that greatly impacts the schools, according to a recent report by the New York State Association of School Business Officials.

Over the past decade, 84.9 percent of rural schools have suffered enrollment decreases of at least 10 percent, while the poverty rate for rural school students grew from 13.7 percent to 17.7 percent. Other demographic changes, such as an increasing share of state population over 55 (increasing from 24.4 percent in 2000 to 33.4 percent in 2016), is another challenge for rural communities.

“The challenges facing rural school districts and their communities requires a comprehensive approach from state policymakers that recognizes their unique needs and limitations,” said Michael J. Borges, NYSASBO executive director. “The state needs to provide targeted incentives and remove road blocks to collaborative efforts that seek to create a more efficient and effective educational framework for rural school students.”

There are 340 rural districts in New York state, but they have only 11.1 percent of the total enrollment, according to the report. In 2016-17, rural schools had an estimated enrollment of 295,628 while non-rural schools had an estimated enrollment of 2,368,413.

Many of the schools in Chautauqua County are considered “rural,” and face these issues.

In August of last year, Panama and Clymer central school districts

gave the go-ahead to study consolidation, citing a drop in population and shrinking of opportunities in the two school districts.

Bert Lictus, Panama and Clymer shared superintendent, in the meeting, said Panama Central High School only had a graduating class of 50.

In 1998, Panama had 1,150 students, but currently, the district has 460 enrolled, he said. Lictus said Clymer had a senior class of 23 students in 2016.

“Clymer has lost a lot of kids,” Lictus said. “It’s staggering how quickly this happened.”

The districts already share a variety of services and sports teams, but are now looking at if a merger would be feasible.

Other area districts have considered mergers, including Brocton and Westfield. Yet, success is few and far between.

See tomorrow’s edition of The Sunday Post-Journal for complete coverage.