Schools face population loss, rise 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 10 years, 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,” stated 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 added 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.

In recent years, several rural school districts in Chautauqua County including Chautauqua Lake, Brocton and Westfield have advocated for regional high schools, which would allow different schools to share regionalized schools and still maintain their local identity.

The benefits include increasing course offerings and decreased cost. However, according to, State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, introduced legislation on regional high schools in 2011 that passed unanimously, but was not entertained on the State Assembly floor.

Not to be deterred, Chautauqua Lake and Ripley Central school districts came up with a plan to send their 7-12 grade students from Ripley to Chautauqua Lake in 2013 using a tuition agreement. The agreement allowed Ripley to pay Chautauqua Lake a mutually agreed upon tuition to send the students. The program has since been successful, and has been approved to continue.

In the report, the New York State Association of School Business Officials gave its support for these types of solutions, including regional high schools, the utilization of BOCES and other shared service models, distance/online learning and more to assist rural schools in providing a quality education to their students in a cost effective manner.

For more information on the report, visit