Pocatello-Chubbuck tables high school boundary change

Pocatello — The Pocatello-Chubbuck School Board has tabled its plan to redraw boundaries for the district’s three high schools, calling for more community input.

During a meeting at Pocatello High School Thursday, trustees said they hope to use the extra input to carve up new boundaries by early March. The original target date was Jan. 11.

During a separate board meeting Tuesday, more than two dozen parents and students said the school board was rushing the process. Patrons focused their concerns on a proposed boundary change that would have forced 127 additional Highland High School students in the northeast part of the district to travel further south to Century High School.

At least a dozen parents argued that the extra distance presented a safety risk, fueling the board’s decision to explore the issue in greater depth. Before Tuesday’s meeting, school board chair Jackie Cranor told Idaho Education News that she believed trustees would approve new boundaries that evening. However, the wave of community input quelled that resolve.

“I think we should step back and come up with a plan that will better balance and support enrollment at all three high schools, with more community input to have a resolution,” said trustee Janie Gebhardt.

Thursday’s decision extends a months-long, heated debate over ending Pocatello-Chubbuck’s longstanding open-enrollment policy, which allows students choose among the district’s four middle schools and three high schools.

A committee made up of 13 district employees, three parents and two trustees compiled data and drew up a proposal to set boundaries and curb a resulting socioeconomic and enrollment imbalance between the schools.

The school board approved the committee’s proposal for new — and closed — middle school boundaries Jan. 17, with a few exceptions:

  • Coaches: Children of paid varsity coaches employed by the district as of Sept. 1 can attend either their parent’s school or their new boundary school; children of head varsity coaches will have the same choice.
  • Students: Ninth- through 11th-graders can continue attending the high school of their choice. For one year, eighth-graders with siblings attending a high school outside their boundary may attend the same school. For one year, current sixth- and seventh-graders can choose to stay in their current middle school, regardless of their new boundaries.

Trustees voted 5-0 Thursday to give children of certified staff members the same exemption as coaches, reversing what trustee Dave Mattson called “a terrible mistake.”

All changes up to this point will go into effect next school year.

When asked whether postponing the high school boundary decision would affect the district’s ability to plan for next year, Pocatello-Chubbuck superintendent Douglas Howell said, “We’ll do our best to work with the board on this difficult decision.”

Trustees did not outline how they plan to gather more community feedback, though Mattson said it could include a series of meetings with several parents from each of the district’s five zones.

Stay with Idaho Education News for further developments on this story. 

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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