A smaller percentage of children are living in poverty in the Three Village Central School District than in many other parts of Suffolk County and New York state, but the percentage of children living in poverty locally has risen slightly since 2007, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2009, 2.8 percent of students ages 5 to 17 in Three Village schools were living in poverty, compared with 3.5 percent in the Port Jefferson School District, 4.3 percent in the Mount Sinai School District, and 6.4 percent in the Brookhaven-Comsewogue School District. Suffolk County's child poverty rate was 7 percent and New York State's was 18.8 percent.
However, 2009 is the second year in a row in which the Three Village Central School District has seen an increase in this number.
"Considering the economy ... I'm amazed it's only gone up a fraction of a point," said Neil Lederer, interim superintendent of the Three Village Central School District. "It shows that to some extent, [this community] is able to protect itself against a downturn in the economy."
Child Poverty Rates in Three Village & Surrounding AreasYear TVCSD Suffolk NY US 2009 2.8 7 18.8 18.2 2008 2.3 6 18.3 16.5 2007 2.1 5.7 18.3 16.4 2006* 3 8 19 16.7 2005 2.3 6 18.6 17
*Levels for 2006 may have seen a spike due to changes in the way the data was handled.
Lederer said the statistics also reflect the relatively low number of children in Three Village who take part in the district's free and reduced lunch program. Jean Ecker, director of child nutrition in the district, said just under five percent of the district's 7,373 students qualify for this program.
However, school board trustee Jonathan Kornreich questioned whether that number was accurate, saying families who need it don't always sign up for it.
"You look at the number of foreclosures and the number of people who are out of work, and our free and reduced lunch hasn't budged," he said. "There's a pride thing. People don't want to sign up for it. I wonder what the real number for child poverty is in our district."
Poverty levels are weighted and based on the size of a family and age of family members as well as the family income, according to Census Bureau definitions. For instance, a family of four with an income of less than $21,954 is considered to be living in poverty.
Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer for Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said poverty rates are important because they often determine the allocation of federal funds among states or among school distrcits within a state. However, he said, Long Island doesn't see much of that federal money, with the exception of a few districts.
"The poverty rates don't surprise me," Bixhorn said. "All the data we've looked at shows that Long Island is becoming poorer as we move forward."
But poverty seems to be much less of a blight upon Three Village than other places in New York, Lederer said. Home prices have remained above Long Island's median of $367,000 – they're around $445,450 in Setauket and East Setauket and around $401,750 in Stony Brook, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. That means people "have to have a degree of wealth to move into this community," Lederer said.
has also had a hand in that, bringing more educators and white-collar workers into Three Village, he added.
"Socioeconomically, the community's a little better off than some other areas," he said.
Joseph Pinciaro and Lon Cohen contributed to this report.