Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday October 23rd 2018


Outtakes—The Coming School Crisis

By Rick Outzen

The middle class is coming to the west side of the city of Pensacola. The Southtowne Apartments will be filled with young professionals, their families, and retirees. The projects proposed for the Blount and Hallmark sites are promoted as bringing “workforce housing” to Pensacola. Meanwhile, lots that have been long vacant in North Hill and the Tanyards are being scooped up by real estate investors.

A decade from now, the racial mix of District 7 and District 6, which encompass downtown and most of the hot new developments, will become decidedly paler and more affluent. Today, District 6, which is represented by Brian Spencer, has 630 more white voters than African-American voters. Jewel Cannada-Wynn’s District 7 only has 238 more black voters than white, according to the Supervisor of Elections office.

However, there is a problem that could undermine the renaissance of the urban core: public education.

White parents won’t put up with the schools than their less affluent, African-American counterparts have endured. They want to live in neighborhoods with good public schools.

Districts 6 and 7 have some of the worse schools in the Escambia County School District. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and his predecessors have long since abandoned the neighborhood schools in those areas.

He has invested over $60-million in new schools near Navy Federal Credit Union to lure workers away from Baldwin County, Ala. and Santa Rosa County. Meanwhile, he has ignored the future demand inside the Pensacola city limits.

Without good public schools near Hallmark and Blount projects, families won’t stay long. White middle-class families expect good schools, low crime, and better public amenities.

A few will be pioneers maybe for a couple of years, but as their children become school age, they will be less willing to transport their children to Cordova Park, A.K. Suter, and N.B. Cook than black families have done in recent years.

They will not enroll them in Global Learning Academy, which was listed among the 300 lowest performing elementary schools in Florida last year. They will not send them to Warrington Middle School, which is the 14th lowest performing middle school in the state.

When the resale market starts, every realtor who shows a family a home in the Hallmark and Blount redevelopments will need a creative answer when the parents ask about the public schools. The smart parents will have already done their homework and will head elsewhere.

The future growth of Districts 6 and 7 will be tied to how well Superintendent Thomas improves the public education in the neighborhoods he has long ignored. Better inner-city schools may finally become a campaign issue in 2020.