In addition to providing quality education preparing students for the workforce, the Wolfe 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 with 250 full-time employees and another 25 part-time employees serving as substitutes and a payroll of $8,587,637. 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. Wolfe County is one of Kentucky’s leaders in graduation rates at 93 percent compared to the state rate of 90.1 percent in 2017-18. 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 services, and entrepreneurial operations.
These figures do not account for all the other expenses poured into the county or the retired educators continuing to have an economic impact living in the community utilizing their retirement benefits. Wolfe County residents are getting a great bargain for their local taxes which represent only nine percent of the money spent by the school district where most the funds come from state and federal sources.
High school graduates contribute to the local economy by being more employable. The 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.
Wolfe County is working 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 can provide 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.
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 Wolfe School district has made important contributions to reach the criteria, thus, providing the county a competitive advantage to land new job opportunities.
The district has several programs and strategies to prepare students for careers which include the Early College Academy in which students can receive their associates degree while in high school; the Wolfe Work Readiness Program slowing students to be in vocational school, in college, or gain work experience with local employers (100 percent participation by high school graduates); annual STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) camps; aviation program; and, a one to one technology initiative in which each student has access to an electronic learning device at school. The district converted a school bus into an innovative bookmobile which goes into the community offering, books, information about health and the district, food backpacks for weekends, and plans to have chrome book computers for use. District bus drivers help with the program donating their time as well as funds.
Superintendent Kenny Bell praises the work of his staff and their innovative problem solving to help students. “We are currently working with head start and training them to work with kids in reading strategies. We are also working with childcare providers in our community to offer training and supplies to help work kindergarten readiness. We hold meetings for parents of incoming kindergarten students to help them get ready for kindergarten throughout the school year. We have a strong focus on helping our parents have their children ready to enter kindergarten,” Bell explains.
Wolfe 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 can help communities grow economically.