Boise leaders weigh the fate of Owyhee Elementary

Board trustees Maria Greeley and Dave Wagers listened to parent testimony during Monday’s regular school board meeting in Boise. (Photo: Darren Svan/EdNews)

Boise School Board trustees took the first step in the process of closing Owyhee Elementary School so the building can be transitioned to an early childhood learning center in 2025.

On Monday evening, they listened to a detailed administrative recommendation to close Owyhee, followed by poignant testimony from parents and school supporters opposing the move. 

Owyhee’s proposed “center model” can become a “really dynamic hub for our youngest learners,” said Becca Anderson, the district’s Borah area director.

But Owyhee parents are not opposed to expanding preschool programs in Boise. Rather, they oppose closing a neighborhood school as an “administrative convenience,” a supporter told the board.

They asked trustees to stop and consider other options, like expanding the current model where general education and special education preschool children attend a neighborhood school program.

Because of declining enrollment, many of Boise’s neighborhood schools should have additional space for more preschool programs, an Owyhee supporter said. 

Building obsolescence is a primary concern — playgrounds and bathroom sinks, for example, are not designed for 3-5 year olds. The new center would consolidate services, like occupational therapy and audiology, and provide age-appropriate classroom space in a central location.

There were no decisions made Monday by the board. Dave Wagers, board president, said trustees and administration will synthesize “what you had to say tonight” and come up with a final decision.

Parents are also dissatisfied with the administration’s decision-making process. The first emails and notifications to parents state the elementary will be closed, yet their input and feedback was not requested prior to the decision being made.

They’re frustrated by the district’s mixed messages.

“Owyhee is a school that deserves to serve as the basis from which all other schools in this district are modeled after, from its focus of meeting students where they are, to its culture of seeing parents as the central part of the education process,” said Chris Monier, the parent of a kindergartener. 

District leaders had held two parent engagement meetings this month, but they focused on the closing process and boundary rezoning, not gathering feedback from families.

Owyhee parent Chris Monier made an emotional plea to keep the school open because he is impressed with the education his young son receives there. He believes Owyhee is an exemplary model that should to be emulated. (Photo: Darren Svan/EdNews)

“We’ve been told by district officials that this is just the first step in this process. We are here today to request that you also make it the last by outright rejecting this proposal and requesting the district explore different options to achieve this goal,” Monier said.

Owyhee supporters raised two additional concerns: the danger of putting 3-5 year olds on buses that traverse busy freeways, and a perceived inequality for schools located south of the Boise River.

“That is one of my biggest nightmares,” a parent said about busing young children across Ada County and on Interstate 84.

Owyhee’s close proximity to the interstate is one reason it was selected as a location for the district’s second center model, which would provide free preschool education for up to 300 children. Boise currently has one center, the Madison Early Childhood Center.

Angela Wimer said, “One of the big bullet points that I’d like to drive home is equity. When I looked at how the school district and our school board spent our $180 million bond that it received in 2018, I decided to use my basic math skills and draw a map.”

She looked at how the money was allocated between elementary schools north and south of the Boise River. She concluded that 10 schools north of the river received $60 million and 23 schools south received $54 million.

“Those students in the North End got $19,000 per student and our southside students got $6,500 per student. That’s almost three times more for school facilities, if you live in the North End. Tell me again about community equity,” Wimer said.

Since 2006, the district has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Boise Bench area schools, including construction of Grace Jordan Elementary, Morley Nelson Elementary and Whitney Elementary. New cafeterias at Hawthorne, Hillcrest and Jefferson elementary schools were built within the last five years, a district press release reads.

After Monday’s meeting, a committee of parents, administrators, school staff and other stakeholders will be formed to review a number of factors — current and projected student enrollment, capacity and student services availability, transportation options and parent concerns, according to the district.

The boundary change process is expected to last several months. The final decision regarding Owyhee’s closure is not expected until December or January. 

“What will the Boise district do if they don’t have enough elementary schools for the Central Bench? The Bench cannot afford to lose another elementary school (like Owyhee), which has been in our neighborhood since 1968,” said Karoline Philp.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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