Bonneville patrons voice concerns over possible boundary changes

AMMON —The Bonneville School District is considering carving up school boundaries to curb overcrowding — and some patrons aren’t happy about it.

“It’s disappointing,” said Tylene Hales, whose children attend Bonneville’s Discovery Elementary School. “We specifically moved to our neighborhood because of my kids’ school.”

The school district recently floated a variety of multimillion-dollar options aimed at absorbing Ammon’s dizzying growth, including a potential 1,500-student middle school that could cost $52 million, and one or more 650- to 1,000-student elementary schools at $16 million to $22 million apiece.

But the problem is handling the influx of kids in the meantime.

The district’s largest elementary school, Discovery, is surrounded by a sea of rapidly  expanding neighborhoods. It’s also currently bursting at the seems, with 711 students — well above the school’s planned capacity of 550.

“We’re elbow to elbow in here,” said Discovery Principal Ken Marlowe. “And we’re expecting about another 100 kids next year.”

As a result, trustees are considering redirecting 76 Discovery kids four miles north to Ucon Elementary School.

Those 76 kids currently reside in the triangular swath of land that houses both Bonneville High School and Rocky Mountain Middle School, with East Iona Road to the south, North Ammon Road to the east and North Yellowstone Highway to the northwest.

A district survey of roughly 300 patrons revealed that 72 percent of respondents said carving up boundaries is the best short-term option for handling the growth. But parents who live within the swath poised to be redrawn disagree.

“I just think they should’ve seen all this coming and had something in place,” Hales said.

Beth Sommers, who moved into the area last month, said her kids currently attend Alturas International Academy, an Idaho Falls-based charter school, but the prospect of eventually sending them to Discovery swayed the family’s decision to move into the neighborhood.

“It’s not that Ucon Elementary is a bad school,” said Sommers, “It’s just that a lot of people always say how great Discovery is, so I can see why some people would be upset.”

Sommers said she’ll keep her kids at Alturas if her neighborhood ends up in Ucon’s boundaries.

Bonneville spokesman Phil Campbell said the district did foresee Ammon’s growth and overcrowding problems — years in advance. He pointed to the school district’s original bond issue for a new high school, which failed three times before passing last year. Bonnneville originally asked voters to approve a $95 million bond issue to build both a new high school and a new middle school, designed to take in a large portion of the district’s sixth graders who are currently dispersed throughout its 15 elementary schools.

But the original bond issue failed to receive a majority of votes, Campbell said, let alone the supermajority needed for a bond issue to pass in Idaho.

So the school district whittled the amount down to $63.5 million, ultimately dumping the request for a new middle school. The revised bond issue passed last year and the new $63.5 million high school is currently in mid-construction.

Campbell stressed that trustees haven’t settled on whether or not to redraw Discovery’s boundaries, and that a public input meeting is currently in the works.

“We don’t have a date for that meeting yet,” Campbell said, “but we will soon.”