January 20, 2011

Port-au-Prince with a Waterfall

News reached us this past weekend that Baby Doc Duvalier had returned to Haiti. Haiti, as you know, has been a human disaster since a massive earthquake one year ago basically leveled the place. Before that, it was still a pretty awful place, but at least most of the buildings were standing.

And that set us to thinking about Niagara County’s own Third World hellhole, Niagara Falls. “Port-au-Prince with a Waterfall,” you might call it.

Now, before you deem us insensitive or accuse us of hyperbole, consider the latest statistics out about the conditions facing school-age children in the Niagara Falls City School District. Buffalo Business First, a truly indispensable publication when it comes to statistical research, released its 2011 Socioeconomic Index for Western New York School Districts. It’s really quite eye-opening:

Out of 98 school districts, Niagara Falls placed 94th in terms of its “socioeconomic climate”—a score derived from factors including the percentage of kids living below the poverty line and the percentage receiving free or reduced lunches, as well as a measurement of wealth within the district.

First off, if you live in Niagara Falls, you can be thankful your kids don’t go to Jamestown, Lackawanna, Dunkirk, or Buffalo public schools. But that’s like telling a Haitian he’s just lucky he doesn’t live in Somalia or North Korea.

(It should also be noted that the Falls School District sucks academically, as well. Apparently years of rule by Carmen “Papa Doc” Granto and Cynthia “Baby Doc” Bianco couldn’t elevate the district above 91st place in the academic ranks. But we digress.)

No, we keep coming back to the very blunt statistics about life for children growing up in Port-au-Dyster. Fully 68% of the kids in the Falls School District qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Think about that: more than two-thirds of the kids are getting a handout every day! And 28% are considered to be living below the poverty line.

We realize, of course, that this is the product of decades of decline. But we also cringe, regularly, when Paul Dyster begins speeches by saying, “I am the mayor of a poor city.” We become even more uncomfortable when the remedy that Dyster prescribes for what ails Niagara Falls is more very expensive government housing, like the disastrous Hope VI project, instead of jobs. Remember—Dyster and former Economic Development Guru Peter Kay actually tried to stop several job-creating efforts by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency just last year.

Conditions in Niagara Falls are deplorable. While our comparison to Haiti may rankle some, we don’t think it’s far-off at all, which is doubly-distressing considering Niagara Falls hasn't even had an earthquake. But our question for the people who live there is, when is enough going to be enough? When will you stop wallowing, electing politicians who promise more handouts, and start demanding your government stop interfering with the creation of jobs?

When will you stop living in the mud waiting for UN aid workers to bring you bottled water and start rebuilding your community?

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