Each year, Business First publishes its annual rankings of Western New York school districts. To no one's surprise, the suburban Buffalo schools - which are the most affluent - end up on top.
City schools, such as Buffalo, Dunkirk, Lackawanna, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, end up near the bottom.
The ranking is not about the quality of teachers or educational programs. It simply comes down to demographics. City schools have higher rates of poverty, single-parent households and take on a greater number of students with special needs.
Only 17 percent of the Gowanda’s school budget comes from the local tax levy.
We do not report on these recently released rankings, which involve a great deal of research by the publication, because it does not reveal anything we do not already know.
But there is a ranking readers should be interested in: just how much of a burden are school districts on their taxpayers compared to state taxpayers? That ranking comes from a simple formula - tax levy, which is paid by district residents, divided by total budget.
The lower the percentage, the more a district relies on state aid to operate. Brocton, for instance, receives 25 percent of its funding from the local tax levy. The other 75 percent comes from state aid and other revenues.
Other schools break down in this manner, with the lowest local percentage rating highest:
1. Gowanda - 17 percent.
2. Pine Valley - 21 percent.
3. Dunkirk - 24 percent.
4. Brocton - 25 percent.
4. Cassadaga Valley - 25 percent.
6. Ripley - 26 percent.
7. Silver Creek - 28 percent.
8. Forestville - 30 percent.
9. Westfield Academy and Central Schools - 39 percent.
10. Fredonia - 50 percent.
11. Chautauqua Lake - 54 percent.
Not included in the Dunkirk schools figure is the $4.1 million coming from NRG that is a payment in lieu of taxes. Including that amount increases the Dunkirk percentage to 34 percent.
What these numbers reveal is how the state continues to over-subsidize the smaller schools. Those subsidies allow tiny districts to hang on by a thread with decreased educational programs and options while many of their residents refuse school mergers.
These percentages also give evidence as to why schools, such as Chautauqua Lake and Fredonia, continue to seek out alternatives, such as a regional high school or a consolidation. In addition, the percentages prove the state is rewarding stubborn attitudes and dwindling tax bases while penalizing those districts that are looking for more efficient options for the future.
Regrettably, that should not be how it works.
So while we tip our hats to this year's graduating class, we also must note each senior class continues to get smaller with each passing year.
Lower enrollment leads to higher costs to run a district. The problem, as seen by the percentages, is the state continues to reward inefficient small schools while penalizing the larger districts.
Consolidation - and a lessened tax burden - will not happen unless the cash flow to small schools stops. Albany has to stop penalizing the larger districts for this to happen.
John D'Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 366-3000, ext. 401.