There’s a lot that’s good about Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25.
The district is blessed with numerous dedicated teachers who despite pay that falls short of what other states offer and having to purchase their own school supplies do an outstanding job of educating the district’s students.
When we look at the district’s leadership — the administrators led by Superintendent Doug Howell and the school board — we see people who are in their positions for the right reasons — to provide our kids with the best education possible in the safest environment possible.
We should all be grateful that our local school district has these strengths.
But there is what we believe to be a glaring inadequacy with the district.
The relationship between the district’s leadership and the public is too often a negative one.
Take for example the Pocatello High School project. The district’s leadership decided to spend millions of dollars on upgrading historic Pocatello High so that students will want to go there as opposed to the newer Century and Highland high schools but the story somehow morphed into controversy.
The ordeal resembled many in the district’s recent history — residents voice concerns about something the district’s leadership is doing and the district’s leadership quickly gets defensive as well as more than a bit dismissive.
This behavior from the district’s leadership is a nagging problem and undermines all of the great things going on in the district’s schools.
The good news is that we have an opportunity to remedy this shortcoming in who we elect to the school board on Nov. 5.
Incumbent board member Paul Vitale is trying to win re-election against mortgage consultant and district parent Oliver Ahmu and perennial candidate Idaho Lorax while former board member Jim Facer is running against retired civil engineer Eric Stewart for the board seat being vacated by Jacob Gertsch, who decided not to run for re-election.
Vitale and Facer clearly represent the current district leadership while Ahmu and Stewart are the change agents in their respective races.
Stewart, a longtime local resident, has spent the last five months knocking on the doors of all 5,500 homes in his school board precinct. He said he undertook that endeavor because he felt like he couldn’t be an effective board member without knowing the concerns of his constituents.
Knocking on all those doors and talking to all those people has been incredibly educational for Stewart, who said many of the district residents he’s talked to feel that bullying is a big problem in School District 25.
Stewart said that his door-knocking odyssey has also led him to believe the relationship between the district’s leadership and the public is not so good.
He said his own recent experience of trying to get documentation concerning the $10 million Pocatello High School remodeling project was discouraging to say the least.
Stewart said the district wouldn’t or couldn’t provide him with the most basic documentation showing how the school board and administration determined that remodeling Pocatello High School was the best option.
He added that he was surprised the board was spending such a massive amount of money on Pocatello High without much documentation explaining how those funds would be spent.
Stewart also echoed the sentiments of other community members who have challenged the district’s leadership in that he said he was treated negatively for simply asking questions.
Ahmu said his decision to run for office was a result of the poor treatment members of the public received when the school board was redoing the district’s school boundaries. Tensions during that debate rose to the point that parents were threatening to recall the entire board.
Ahmu called the board’s redrawing of the school boundaries a “hostile takeover” because of the district leadership’s apparent agitation toward anyone who would question the process.
Ahmu and Stewart said the district’s leadership lacks transparency and gets defensive over simple inquiries and the board often doesn’t act as a proper check on the administration.
All that being said, we believe their opponents in the Nov. 5 election, Vitale and Facer, are running for the right reasons and this isn’t a case where we’re going to claim that electing either one of who we would call the status-quo candidates would be anything akin to a disaster for the community.
Vitale is a retired School District 25 social worker who has a lot of institutional and current knowledge about the school system and the community it serves. Facer, a retired electrician, has a genuine interest in helping our community’s young people succeed and would use his position on the board to help the district’s students achieve their potential.
What we see as the only problem with Vitale and Facer is that we believe the rift between the district’s leadership and the public would do nothing but continue with them on the board for the next four years.
We understand the difficulties that can arise at times in relations between a school district’s leadership and the public. Tough decisions need to be made and it can be impossible to make everyone happy with those decisions.
But the district’s leadership will find that continuing to take offense to scrutiny will not only create enemies for them but will turn people who otherwise would be supporters into critics.
If you want this attitude to continue to outshine the good things going on in the district, vote for the clear status quo candidates on Nov. 5.
Otherwise Stewart and Ahmu are excellent choices to send the district’s leadership a needed message.