The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Reality Check

June 25, 2008

School statistics reflect low wages

Nearly 92 percent of students at Thurgood Marshall classified as ‘economically disadvantaged’

To grasp how pervasive low-wages and poverty are in Ashtabula, take a look at the state report cards for the buildings in the Ashtabula Area City School District.

The cards include an “economically disadvantaged” percentage for each school. The figure is based upon the number of students receiving free or reduced-rate lunches, says Patrick Colucci, who administers the district’s federal aid programs. A child from a family of four is eligible to receive free lunches if the family’s total income is equal to or less than $26,845. The child qualifies for reduced-rate lunches if the income is $38,203 or less.

The former figure translates into $12.90 an hour, the latter to $18.36. Both are higher than what many of the manufacturing, retail and hospitality jobs pay in this area. Indeed, the former figure is higher than per capita income in Ashtabula County.

It’s little surprise, therefore, that districtwide, 61 percent of Ashtabula City Schools students are classified as “economically disadvantaged.” At Thurgood Marshall Elementary School at least 91.8 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-rate lunches.

The burden on the educators is staggering, says Joseph Donatone, district superintendent.

“There is absolutely a difference with regard to the socio-economic level of the student and the way in which we educate them,” says Donatone, who has the unique perspective of having worked for both the county’s wealthiest and poorest districts. “In Ashtabula Area City Schools, because it is a low-wealth district, we must provide more resources in terms of personnel and dollars on intervention.”

The district receives about $7 million annually from state and federal sources to help students overcome the roadblocks to learning that accompany them to school every day. That is almost 20 percent of the district’s $36 million annual budget, $22 million of which comes from outside the city.

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