Editor’s note: A population decline and consequent loss of students and funding has had ripple effects across Kentucky’s rural counties. Lee County schools had the largest decline in the state at 31.5 percent, losing 444 of the 1403-student enrollment in 2000. The district also lost 76 employees since 2000, 48 certified and 28 classified.
In addition to providing quality education, the Lee County School District is a major economic driver in the community. The school district directly contributes to the educational attainment and future earnings of its youth.
The district is the largest employer in the county despite the county’s population and student enrollment loss which has forced school staff cuts in the last several years. The Lee County School District has 240 total employees and 126 full time employees and a payroll of $5,319,677 annually. The employees contribute to the local tax base through payment of taxes and property values and spend dollars in goods and services in the community.
Raising educational levels with increased high school graduation, college and career success rates is critical to economic growth in a community. Lee County is one of Kentucky’s leaders in graduation rates at 95.5% percent. It is difficult to ascertain the financial contributions of a graduating class with certainty, however, according to the 2010 census, the annual lifetime earnings of high school graduates average $10,386 higher than non-graduates. Over the course of 47 years of earning, this added income amounts to $488,142.
It is important to be mindful that while the economic impacts of the school district contribute to the local economy, it is not the same form of economic development in which goods and services are sold to outside markets bringing in dollars to the community and employing local citizens. Communities need to grow their economy and bring in outside dollars through the production of products, offering of services, and entrepreneurial operations.
Consequently, in this report allowances have been made to remove the economic impact that local sources of revenue are used to provide jobs and payroll. The breakdown for salaries from local, state and federal is as follows: $871,341.61, $3,566,790.44, and $1,564,776.92. Thus, the amount of out of county funds used for school operations (salaries) is $6,002,908.97. Additionally, the employee elements in payroll such as paid leave, portion of health insurance, retirement and required benefits have been removed since they are not available for purchasing power.
Thus, $5,319,677.10 is a realistic amount of payroll pumped into the Lee County economy annually from the outside sources of federal, state, and private funding. And, these figures do not account for the retired educators continuing to have an economic impact living in the community utilizing their retirement benefits.
High school graduates contribute to the local economy by being more employable. Additionally, Lee County High School graduates are awarded thousands of dollars from state and federal sources annually which is used for tuition but also necessary expenses, many of which are spent in the community.
Lee County was able to obtain the coveted status as a KY Work Ready Community in Progress because of the success in the school district and the leadership it provided in the application process. The Kentucky Workforce Investment Board developed this program to show potential employers that counties have the skilled available workforce to locate there.
In order to qualify for the Work Ready Community status, counties must meet certain thresholds in criteria such as high school graduation rates, National Career Readiness Certificate holders, educational attainment rates, soft skills, available broadband Internet access, and counties must have a planning group in which K-12 is a critical component. The Lee County School district made important contributions to reach the criteria, thus, providing the county a competitive advantage to land new job opportunities.
The district attributes its many successes to a resolute commitment by the Lee County Board of Education and a strong K – 12 instructional program and instructional staff. A variety of college and career opportunities are made available to students through instrumental partnerships with colleges, universities and the Lee County Area Technology Center. Such partnerships enable Lee County Schools to offer various dual credit courses, a rigorous computer science curriculum (including an innovative course in cybersecurity), co-operative possibilities and a variety of career pathways.
The district’s commitment to continuous learning is illustrated by emphasis on programs such as the 1:1 technology device initiative which provides devices and access to K - 12 students, the Area Technology Center’s regional approach which presents opportunities for shared resources among multiple counties and the Area Technology Center’s adult learning program which provides instructional support to adults after hours. The district’s commitment to excellence has resulted in accreditation through AdvancED, recognition by the Kentucky Center for Performance Excellence and membership in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.
Lee County teachers are the mentors for the New Economy workforce and next generation entrepreneurs to strengthen the local economy. The school district is a critical component of economic and community development. An educated citizenry is able to help communities grow economically.
Ron Daley works for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative and serves as director of the Appalachian Innovations Collaborative research team.
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