Poverty remains a consistent factor in upstate New York demographics, and a recent list of the 50 upstate school districts with the highest rates of child poverty, based on census data reviewed by Syracuse.com, has five districts from The Daily Star’s coverage area included.

There are four in Delaware County and one in Otsego County.

The majority of school districts within The Daily Star’s coverage area have high rates of poverty, with upwards of 40 percent of students being eligible for free or reduced lunch, a typical indicator of economic need. According to data from the National Center for Children in Poverty, 41 percent of children in New York state live in a low-income household.

Sidney, South Kortright, Walton, Worcester and Downsville central school districts made the list.

Sidney has a school-age poverty rate of 30.2 percent, or 367 of its 1,215-student population. South Kortright has a poverty rate of 30.7 percent or 70 of the 228 enrolled students.

Worcester, in Otsego County, was ranked in the middle of the pack with 129 of its 350 student population designated as low income, with a school-age poverty rate of 36.9 percent.

Walton has a school-age poverty rate of 46.8 percent; 523 students within its population of  1,118 and Downsville Central School District came in seventh in highest poverty rates with a school-age poverty rate of 46.9 percent. Downsville has 177 students, 83 of whom are considered in poverty.

According to Dana Scuderi, Commissioner of Delaware County Department of Social Services, poverty rates in Delaware County as a whole are decreasing. In 2010, 9,360 children were in households designated as poverty status. In 2017, 7,679 children were reported to be in poverty. Pockets of Delaware County, such as Walton, experience higher rates of poverty. The total poverty rate of the Walton school district is 24.1 percent.

Poverty is a challenge for school districts, but superintendents said other factors affect a district as well, such as being in a remote, rural location. John Evans, Downsville superintendent, said problems such as lack of services are more geography-related.

“The remoteness of where we are and the lack of access to services puts more pressure on the school to provide services that are more readily available in a more populated area,” Evans said. 

Poverty can affect a student’s performance at school and increased services in schools are required to help prepare and nurture at-risk children. 

Schools employ social workers and counselors, and many schools in the area have backpack programs, which provide a backpack full of food for students to take home over the weekend. Additionally, Bassett Healthcare Centers provide in-school basic medical care for students. 

This school year, Downsville and Walton received additional funding to make school meals free to all students.

Worcester Superintendent Timothy Gonzalez said the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch rose to 59 percent this year. 

Through an Otsego Northern Catskill BOCES program, Worcester and a few other school districts were awarded a System of Care grant to fund social work and counseling services.

“It will have a big impact for those kids and their families,” Gonzalez said. 

Not only does poverty affect students, but it also affects schools, which rely on a mixture of state aid and property tax to build their budgets. 

“We try to provide services within our budget to assist students, whether it be tutoring or other one-on-one services,” Larry Thomas, Walton’s acting superintendent, said. “It becomes more and more difficult when you look at how tight money is.”

“Everybody cares about our kids but we live in a time of reduced resources and especially in rural areas, and it becomes just a huge challenge,” he said.

Whitney Bashaw, staff writer, can be reached at 607-441-7218 or wbashaw@thedailystar.com . Follow her on Twitter @DS_WhitneyB .

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