June 14, 2023

What Should the Future be for Highland High School?

By: Oliver AhMu

I love living in Pocatello and Chubbuck. We truly live in the gem of communities in the Gem State. We are surrounded by some beautiful scenery. A few weeks ago, I read America the Beautiful while I observed the Memorial Day Holiday. I wonder if Katherine Lee Bates was sitting on the mountainside in our valley when she wrote, “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!”

Recently, we experienced a tragedy in our community when Highland High School experienced a fire. Due to the circumstances of the fire that morning, most of us thought the school would be a total loss. Thankfully, it wasn’t. We are at a crossroads right now in our community. The school needs to be fixed, and we have decisions to make.

Many of you may know Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 has a survey asking the community for input as to what the best course of action is. I would invite everyone to complete that survey that lives here. I am grateful the school district leadership has asked for our input. The district has come up with a few options: use insurance funds to build the school back to the original footprint, use insurance replacement funds and add additional bond funding to enhance Highland High School, or use the insurance money and add an additional bond totaling $115-$125 million to build a new high school and repurpose Highland High School as a middle school or elementary school.

All of us can agree that the way Highland High School was before the fire wasn’t the best. The gym was cramped, and the weight room was way too small. Most of us can agree the cost for housing whether you rent or own a home is extraordinarily high right now versus how housing costs were five years ago. Historically, home prices have appreciated seventy three of the last eighty one years across the nation. Our community saw unprecedented increase in home values the last three or four years. This has caused our rents and mortgage payments to increase across Pocatello and Chubbuck, and we have seen some property taxes increase nearly 50% in only a few short years.



I talk with people about renting and home buying on a daily basis. For years now, I have heard daily if not hourly from friends and acquaintances about how concerned they are about the cost of living and how quickly it has risen in recent years. Many people who rent an apartment or home don’t know they pay the school district, among other taxing districts, a lot of money in property taxes. Your landlord doesn’t show you the bill; they just increase your rent every year or every other year to cover the cost.

A school district bond will increase every property’s taxes. I’m skeptical that a new high school and repurpose of Highland High School would only cost $125 million, especially considering Highland High School’s current condition. Let’s say the project costs $200 million, and that is what the district bond is set for. That would increase the average renter or homeowner $46 per month. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you look at how the national and local economy is performing, $46 a month can make or break a household. Business’s overhead will increase, costs of goods will increase, and households will spend less money. We will see some businesses close doors, and we won’t see other new businesses. They will overlook Pocatello and Chubbuck and choose Twin Falls or Idaho Falls for their new business.

Here is something else to consider. The school board and school district are not the poster child of stewardship and responsibility. Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 has taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in bond funds the last 50 years. These bonds were for building and maintaining school district facilities. As far as I know, we have only seen one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school built in that timeframe. Not to mention, critical systems failing such as the fire suppression systems and fire alarm system that failed to alert the fire department. What if this occurred during a school day? The school district already has the funding or most of the funding to complete this rebuild and upgrade without another bond. In the 2022-2023 district budget, there are over $50 million in reserves and around $15 million in facilities reserves. I’m not an expert on municipalities and school district budgets and reserves, but after a quick look at the City of Chubbuck’s budget, it appeared to only have $2.9 million in reserves.

I believe the school board will, regardless of public input, ask for a large bond measure to pass. It is likely the bond measure will be voted on during an off election year where voter turnout is typically lower. Please complete the survey, contact school board members, and ask them to consider other more cost effective options to get Highland High School repaired. Make your voice heard. Let’s continue to make our community better together.

Editor’s Note: The PCSD 25 Public Input Survey for Highland High School is available here.





  1. I do not support any rebuilding of anything at all unless we can guarantee going forward no perverse anti American teachers or material will be taught to our children.

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