Pocatello-Chubbuck patrons split over boundary-change prospect

POCATELLO — Patrons in the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District are split over the prospect of nixing a 20-year-old, open-enrollment policy and carving up new middle and high school boundaries.

Over 100 people attended a special school board meeting at Pocatello High School Thursday night to see the district’s currently proposed boundary changes and voice concerns to trustees.

Most parents acknowledged the need for change, since the district’s widely used open-enrollment policy has fueled socioeconomic and enrollment disparities throughout the district for two decades. However, many from this group questioned whether the current proposal, drafted by an 18-member committee of parents and educators, goes far enough.

“It’s a hot mess,” said Pocatello High School principal Lisa Delonas, who served on the boundary-change committee.

These patrons focused primarily on plans for Johnny Creek Road, a rural area of affluence in Pocatello’s southern hills slated to be redrawn into Century High School’s boundaries. Pocatello High School, not Century, needs the area to counterbalance a greater share of low-income families, attendees argued.

Pocatello High, located in the heart of the city’s Old Town area, served a free-and-reduced lunch population of 48 percent in 2016-17. By comparison, the district’s two other high schools, Century and Highland, served 37  percent and 28 percent, respectively.

Delonas said it’s obvious Pocatello High School needs the area most if the district wants to combat poverty gaps, but that her suggestion to leave the Johnny Creek swath alone went largely unheeded in recent weeks.

“It makes absolutely no sense to move it to Century,” Delonas said.

Pocatello-Chubbuck business manager Bart Reed, who fielded questions during the first half of the meeting, didn’t specifically discuss the Johnny Creek area, but said changes aren’t always as clear-cut as they might appear.

Some pockets on the map might contain 250 kids — others might have only five, Reed said.

To further curb Pocatello High’s poverty gap, the proposal extends the school’s boundaries north into a sea of Chubbuck’s newer middle-class neighborhoods. But this idea has fueled blowback of its own from Highland parents who say it burdens students with deep roots at the school.

The district says Highland is already at enrollment capacity, and that some simply must relocate.

To reduce the blow on affected families, the boundary committee voted unanimously to allow students currently in grades 9-11 to continue attending the high school of their choice. Next year’s incoming freshmen must attend their new boundary high school, with one exception. For one year, eighth graders with siblings attending a school outside their boundary may attend the same school.

Other proposed exceptions cater to staff, coaches and some students:

  • Staff: Children of full-time staffers who are directly supervised by the principal may attend their parent’s high school.
  • Coaches: Children of paid coaches who were employed by the district as of Sept. 21, 2017, may attend their parent’s high school; children of head varsity coaches may attend their parent’s high school.
  • Specialty classes: Students may continue to attend specialty classes, such as career-technical courses, in other high schools without changing enrollment.
 Pocatello-Chubbuck administrators estimate that the proposed boundary change would also level off enrollment disparities by boosting Pocatello’s enrollment to 1,182 students and slightly reducing enrollment at both Century and Highland to 1,140 and 1,579, respectively.

Other input from patrons included:

  • Allowing open enrollment to simply continue, regardless of its affect on socioeconomics.
  • Taking more time to consider district dynamics and needs before making a final decision.
  • Allowing all of next year’s incoming middle and high school students to attend schools of their choice.

Click here for the committee’s boundary-change proposal, including maps.

Trustees are poised to make a final decision Jan. 11.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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