Tuesday, August 11, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Metrotrends notes growth

Jacksonville was once the fastest-growing community in the area, but that was before its schools were entangled in an important, if debilitating, desegregation agreement.

Since that time, families inclined to live in the area, like Little Rock Air Force Base airmen, have headed farther up the highway, settling in Cabot, Ward and Austin where their children could attend Cabot District schools.

Meanwhile, lost in the hinterlands of the sprawling Pulaski County Special School District, Jacksonville got beat like a rented mule.

Jacksonville has actually lost population in recent years, but city leaders here are confident that the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District will turn the tide.

Cabot was the area success story earlier in this new millenium, with people fleeing integration and substandard schools in favor of new suburbs and new schools.

Jacksonville could only look on.

Now, however, while Cabot still continues to grow at a respectable rate — 10 percent between 2010 and 2015 — Austin and Ward to its north have grown the fastest.

Austin has grown by nearly 26 percent since 2010 and Ward by 16 percent. Bryant has grown by nearly 20 percent.

That’s according to Metroplan’s annual publication, Metro Trends Demographic Review and Outlook.

Of course, even with the phenomenal growth rate, Austin still has only 2,560 residents. While the growth rate was less in Cabot, it still added more residents over that period than the total number of people who live in Austin.

Although growth in Jacksonville has been flat between 2010 and 2015, with a population of 28,796, it’s still larger than Cabot.

For decades, Jacksonvillians have said, “Give us our own school district, and we’ll educate our children and build our town.”

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, while it is already a legal entity, will choose its first elected school board in September and start educating children in the 2016-17 school year.

It will be the voters’ responsibility to tax themselves a bit so the new district can afford to begin replacing decrepit old buildings and to support the district any way they can.

Like a ship at sea, it will take a while to turn the new school district and community around. But, perhaps by the 2020 census, Jacksonville will begin to see growth again.

It took the city 30 years to get its own school district, and it may take a while longer to see the new district emerge as an engine for growth. But it will happen if you let it.