IDAHO FALLS — The rapidly growing Bonneville School District is considering ways to balance enrollment disparities and absorb projected growth by carving up elementary school boundaries.
The district had debated building both a new middle school and a $25 million elementary school to curb overcrowding among k-8 students. Yet legal concerns and fear of splitting support among voters prompted trustees to opt solely for the middle school measure, which passed Tuesday with almost 72 percent support.
Some trustees say a measure for a new elementary school could end up on the ballot later this year. In the meantime, administrators say boundary changes will help handle growth and avoid the unnecessary cost of overstaffing teachers at one elementary school.
During a school board meeting Wednesday, Bonneville assistant superintendent Scott Woolstenhume floated two options for relocating some 200 students to free up space at both Iona and Woodland Hills elementary schools.
The first option would relocate 120 students living in the Fallsbrook subdivision from Iona to Tiebreaker Elementary School. This option “makes a lot of sense,” Woolstenhulme said, since students in the area already live within two miles from Tiebreaker.
Woolstenhulme estimates that this change would make room for an extra 59 students at Tiebreaker and an extra 139 at Iona, which currently has 60 homes in “some phase” of construction within its boundaries.
The second option would relocate 80 students living west of Ammon Road from Woodland Hills to Hillview Elementary School. Woolstenhulme said this change would make room for an added 55 students at Hillview and an aded 129 at Woodland Hills.
Woolstenhulme expressed less confidence in the second option, adding that boosting Hillview’s enrollment numbers could come in a variety of ways. He stressed that changing boundaries is ultimately the school board’s decision.
Woolstenhulme also laid out financial and personnel concerns contributing to the need for a potential boundary change. If the board opts against new boundaries, he said, class sizes would dramatically shrink at Hillview. Maintaining current staff at the school, despite the reduction, would run the district an extra $400,000.
“I don’t think we can afford a decision like that,” Woolstenhulme told trustees.
To avoid the financial hit, the district could either redraw boundaries or move roughly five Hillview teachers to other schools. This second option rankled some teachers, who questioned the district’s consideration of floating a school bond issue for a new elementary school later this year when Hillview could have up to five empty classrooms next school year.
“The board needs to know that if there are empty classrooms in (Hillview), people are not going to pass a bond for a new elementary school,” Bonneville teacher Amy Taylor wrote on Facebook.
As a result of these concerns, Woolstenhulme asked trustees to consider his proposed boundaries and schedule a community meeting to get input from patrons.
Trustee Amy Landers expressed frustration at Woolstenhulme’s “abrupt” appeal to change boundaries. She pointed to Woolstenhulme’s own assurances last year that the district wouldn’t need to change boundaries.
The need for changes had come to light abruptly, Woolstenhulme said, adding “I don’t like surprising people, but I’m willing to take the heat, since I was the one who said we wouldn’t need them.”
Despite suggesting the need for new boundaries, Woolstenhulme assured trustees that no teachers would be laid off if positions were eliminated at Hillview. For the past five years, Woolstenhulme said, the district has hired up to 120 people. Administrators would give hiring preference to Hillview teachers potentially displaced by the shuffle.
“There would not be a reduction in force,” Woolstenhulme said.
School board chairman Paul Jenkins called for a meeting to get more public feedback on the proposed changes. It’s currently unclear when that will happen, but the board’s next scheduled work session is March 28 and next scheduled regular meeting is April 11.
Stay with Idaho Education News for more on these developments.