Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 16th 2019

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Outtakes—The Donut Hole

By Rick Outzen

Escambia County is earning a national reputation for its commitment to vocational training. We have had two big announcements this month.

First, ST Engineering announced the establishment of the Pensacola Mayor’s Scholarship to support outstanding individuals accepted into an aviation-related post-secondary educational program. Starting in 2020, scholarships will be awarded to four applicants annually from the Escambia County School District based on criteria including academic performance and financial needs. Successful applicants will each receive a scholarship amount of $2,500.

On Monday, March 18, we learned that Escambia County had been named one of five communities joining the Inclusive Development Network, an ambitious new initiative designed to advance inclusive workforce development within the selected regions through a focus on reaching underserved populations.

Pensacola joined Cleveland, Ohio; Corpus Christi, Texas; Coweta, Okla., and Spokane, Wash. They were selected from more than 35 applications for the Network’s first cohort of communities.

The Inclusive Development Network will work to identify and implement strategies that reduce equity gaps in local workforce development. Local leadership teams will hone inclusive workforce development strategies to create education, job and career opportunities for residents of all demographics.

Both are great news. However, we have a hole in the workforce development donut—Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has a $3 million grant agreement from Triumph Gulf Coast sitting on his desk that he has refused to sign since last summer. The funds would provide training for elementary, middle and high school students that would lead to high-paying jobs in the aviation repair, cybersecurity and logistic supply industries.

Thomas has refused to accept the money because he doesn’t want to refund any funds if he fails to produce qualified graduates. For someone who has touted the district’s improvements in graduation rates, it seems odd that the superintendent wouldn’t think he could meet the required standards.

Triumph chairman Don Gaetz told Inweekly the Triumph performance standards for Escambia “were set low.” Triumph demands certificates over a three-year period for 210 K-5 students for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); 70 middle school students for information technology; 20 high school students for aircraft assembly; 20 high school students for manufacturing; 100 high school students for cybersecurity; 50 post-secondary students at George Stone Technical College for airframe and powerplant; 30 post-secondary students for cybersecurity; and 25 post-secondary students for commercial driving.

Thomas is an even bigger outlier on workforce training because the school districts of Walton, Franklin and Gulf counties have had no problems with agreeing to meet Triumph’s performance standards.

It seems everyone is committed to vocational training but the head of the Escambia County School District.