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Idaho’s public school enrollment growth is slowing down – but the Magic Valley is holding steady

TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls’ two newest elementary schools have grown even faster than expected.

Pillar Falls Elementary School now has 640 students, while Rock Creek Elementary School has about 600 — dozens more than predicted.

Rapid growth isn’t uncommon for new schools, Twin Falls School District superintendent Brady Dickinson said, especially since the two campuses are in the high-growth northeast and northwest areas of the city.

“They’ve exceeded growth projections just in two years they’ve been open,” he said.

South Hills Middle School opened in August to help address rapid enrollment growth.

The school district, which has more than 9,400 students, has seen 2-4 percent growth each year. But that same trend isn’t being felt across Idaho.

Idaho’s public school enrollment still expanded this year in elementary through high schools, but at a slower rate than previous years. Here in the Magic Valley, though, many school districts are seeing growth rates hold steady.

The Idaho State Department of Education released preliminary fall enrollment numbers Monday to the Times-News in response to a data request. It’s for the first Friday in November.

In total, the state has 299,368 students — up 581 students from last year.

It may sound like a big gain, but it’s less than years past. Over the last decade, Idaho schools have typically gained a few thousand students per year.

Possible reasons behind the enrollment slowdown this year are unclear. No one at the Idaho State Department of Education would comment about the trend.

Here in the Magic Valley, more companies are coming into the area and some existing ones are expanding operations. That has led to a boom in school enrollment.

Several school districts have opened new schools or added classroom wings within the last few years. Along with the new Twin Falls schools, John V. Evans Elementary School opened in Burley in August, and Kimberly is constructing a new elementary school slated to open in June.

The Twin Falls School District has 280 more students than last year, as of the fourth Friday in September, which is 3 percent growth.

Dickinson doesn’t anticipate the growth will speed up or slow down, but “we don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “We take our indicators from what’s happening in the community.”

New subdivisions are planned in south Twin Falls, Dickinson said, which will raise questions about capacity at Oregon Trail Elementary School. It’s the only elementary school in the area and will become crowded “sooner rather than later,” he said.

He also expects northwest Twin Falls, served by Rock Creek Elementary, to continue to grow.

If a 3-4 percent yearly growth rate holds steady, the school district will likely be five years out from needing another elementary school, Dickinson said.

“We’re in really good shape with middle schools for a long time,” he said, and he doesn’t expect high schools to be full until 2030.

Here are the enrollment trends five other school districts are seeing:


Jerome School District has 4,027 students in preschool through 12th grades, up 72 compared with November 2016.

For the last five years, the district has grown by about 100 students per year.

Superintendent Dale Layne said he expects the growth to remain about the same — between 75 and 100 students per year — for the next two years and it could level off a bit after that.

“But of course, that all depends on business and housing and all that kind of thing,” Layne said.

He said he met with Jerome city officials Monday and learned new home construction is still underway, but not at the same pace as Twin Falls.

Cassia County

Cassia County has 5,585 students, as of Nov. 21. That’s a 73-student increase compared with the same week last year.

The school district has gained 203 students since 2014.

Pam Teeter, an administrative assistant for the Cassia County School District, said she doesn’t think the growth will slow down anytime soon since new businesses and families are coming to Burley.

It’s not a surprise the school district’s enrollment is growing, said school district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield. In fact, “it happened a little more quickly than what we anticipated.”

The Burley and Declo areas are seeing most of the growth, she said, largely due to economic development. But even Albion has seen its enrollment nearly double, from 26 students in 2009 to 49 this year.

Oakley schools saw a bubble of students a few years ago and numbers have since dropped off a little, but they’re still higher than historically. Enrollment in Raft River schools has remained flat.

Critchfield said she has heard from real estate agents that there are people who’d like to move into smaller communities such as Oakley, but there’s a lack of housing inventory.


Hansen School District has 350 students, a number that hasn’t changed much over the years.

Enrollment increased a little this year, but the school district has a “very transient population,” with students coming and going frequently, Superintendent Kristin Beck said.

Blaine County

Blaine County School District has an estimated 3,470 students, up 30 from November 2016.

The school district had a big dip in enrollment during the 2011-12 school year, but has slowly seen numbers increase since 2013.


Buhl School District has 1,355 students and typically gains 25 to 30 each year. Three years ago, there was a much larger influx: more than 100 additional students.

“We expect the growth rate to remain about the same,” Superintendent Ron Anthony said, unless a new business moves into the area.

Another factor, he said, is “we don’t have the housing for people to get a big growth.”

Public art or business access? The URA may deed a part of the Rogerson Hotel wall for a business entrance

TWIN FALLS — Across from the new City Hall and adjacent to the future downtown commons plaza, one wall of the historic Rogerson Hotel still stands.

It wasn’t initially planned that way.

“It’s a very problematic wall,” said Leon Smith, former Urban Renewal Agency chairman.

Smith had helped to determine what, if anything, was salvageable from the Rogerson before demolition. Around that time, it was discovered that the 18-inch-thick wall not only supported the hotel, but the roof and floor of the building next door. The space at 147 Main Ave. E. is now being used for online order pickups and processing for Fashion 15 Below.

“We decided to save the wall and turn it into an art wall,” Smith said.

On Wednesday the URA will consider deeding the portion of the wall supporting the building to that building’s owner, Debra Gates. If it does, the agency will also allow her to build an entrance facing the plaza during an extensive remodel of the building.

The portion of wall had been planned for a mural, but URA staff recommends moving the mural to another part of the wall instead. The wall extends beyond the building, along the plaza.

The conflict, URA board member Perri Gardner said, has been whether that 28-foot section of wall should be for public art or for business development.

“I’m not sure the board will decide to deed that wall space,” said Gardner, who is the liaison to the downtown public art committee.

But Smith, who is the chairman of the public art committee, says it’s a workable solution.

The URA has called a special meeting for Wednesday to decide whether to sign a memorandum of understanding with Gates. The board meets at 9 a.m. in City Council Chambers, 305 Third Ave. E.

“The design compliments what the URA has planned for the commons,” said Gates, who lives in Oregon but plans to return to Idaho.

She hopes to do the work in phases coinciding with the commons work, with a reface of the front and side walls. The designs also show a balcony and a mezzanine.


The design for 147 Main Ave. E. shows a mezzanine with balconies overlooking Main Avenue and the downtown commons. Colby Ricks is the architect.

Once complete, the space should have the flexibility to house a coffee shop, office spaces, a restaurant or possibly a wine bar, Gates said.

Fashion 15 owner Erin Rigel said she has a contract to lease the building until August 2020. More than 100 people per day come in to pick up online orders, she said.

Gates said the work would be phased so Rigel could move her business to the back part of the building while the front was being completed. She said she fully supports the tenant and plans to make it as convenient to her as possible.

URA Executive Director Nathan Murray said Gates’ remodeling will probably cost close to $400,000; the memorandum requires the remodeling to be at least $300,000.

“We want to accommodate her,” Murray said. “I don’t think anyone wanted to hold up potential development.”

On its own, the wall isn’t worth much, so the URA will deed that portion over to Gates for free if the board approves.

The most important thing to Gardner is that Gates’ work be completed at the same time the plaza opens.

“Certainly you can see how desirable that would be to have a balcony and a door into that plaza,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting it resolved.”


Buhl’s Sage Eckert takes a shot against Gooding during their 3A conference game Tuesday night at Buhl High School.

GOP shoves tax overhaul ahead; shutdown still a threat

WASHINGTON — Republicans held together and shoved their signature tax overhaul a crucial step ahead Tuesday as wavering GOP senators showed a growing openness. But its fate remained uncertain, and a planned White House summit aimed at averting a government shutdown was derailed when President Donald Trump savaged top Democrats and declared on Twitter, “I don’t see a deal!”

“It’s time to stop tweeting and start leading,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer retorted after he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rebuffed the budget meeting with Trump and top Republicans.

Trump lunched with GOP senators at the Capitol and declared it a “love fest,” as he had his previous closed-doors visit. But the day underscored the party’s yearlong problem of unifying behind key legislation — even a bill slashing corporate taxes and cutting personal taxes that’s a paramount party goal.

Tuesday’s developments also emphasized the leverage Democrats have as Congress faces a deadline a week from Friday for passing legislation to keep federal agencies open while leaders seek a longer-term budget deal. Republicans lack the votes to pass the short-term legislation without Democratic support.

In a party-line 12-11 vote, the Senate Budget Committee managed to advance the tax measure to the full Senate as a pair of wavering Republicans — Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Tennessee’s Bob Corker — fell into line, at least for the moment. In more good news for the GOP, moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said it was a “fair assumption” that she was likelier to support the bill after saying Trump agreed to make property taxes up to $10,000 deductible instead of eliminating that break entirely.

But the fate of the legislation remained uncertain as it headed toward debate by the full Senate, which Republicans control by a slender 52-48. GOP leaders can afford just two defectors, and a half dozen or more in their party have been uncommitted. They include some wanting bigger tax breaks for many businesses but others cringing over the $1.4 trillion — or more — that the measure is projected to add to budget deficits over the next decade.

“It’s a challenging exercise,” conceded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He compared it to “sitting there with a Rubik’s Cube and trying to get to 50” votes, a tie that Vice President Mike Pence would break.

Corker, who’s all but broken with Trump over the president’s behavior in office, is among a handful of Republicans uneasy over the mountains of red ink the tax measure is expected to produce. He said he was encouraged by discussions with the White House and party leaders to include a mechanism — details still unknown — to automatically trigger tax increases if specified, annual economic growth targets aren’t met.

“I think we’re getting to a very good place on the deficit issue,” Corker said.

But other Republicans are wary of backing legislation that would hold the hammer of potential future tax increases over voters’ heads.

“I am not going to vote to automatically implement tax increases on the American people. If I do that, consider me drunk,” said Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Collins said she’d also won agreement that before completing the tax measure, Congress would approve legislation restoring federal payments to health insurers that Trump scuttled last month. That bill has had bipartisan support, but it’s unclear if Democrats would back it amid partisan battling over the tax bill.

McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., met with Trump at the White House despite the top Democrats’ no-shows. Trump highlighted their absence by appearing before reporters flanked by two empty chairs bearing Schumer’s and Pelosi’s names.

Trump said Democrats would be to blame for any shutdown, despite GOP domination of government.

“If it happens it’s going to be over illegals pouring into the country, crime pouring into the country, no border wall, which everyone wants,” he said. He also said North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile on Wednesday should prompt Democrats to renew negotiations over the spending legislation, which includes Pentagon funding.

“But probably they won’t because nothing to them is important other than raising taxes,” Trump said.

Trump repeated those claims Tuesday night on Twitter, writing that Democrats “can’t now threaten a shutdown to get their demands.”

Democrats noted that in May, Trump tweeted the country “needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” In a tweet of her own Tuesday, Pelosi said Trump’s “verbal abuse will no longer be tolerated,” adding in reference to the empty-chairs show, “Poor Ryan and McConnell relegated to props. Sad!”

A temporary spending bill expires Dec. 8 and another is needed to prevent a government shutdown. Hurricane aid to help Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is also expected to be included in that measure, as well as renewed financing for a children’s health program that serves more than 8 million low-income children.

Democrats are also pressing for legislative protections for immigrants known as “Dreamers.” Conservative Republicans object to including that issue in the crush of year-end business. But GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida joined Democrats in saying he won’t vote for the spending bill unless the immigrant issue is resolved.