There will be two questions on a November 5, 2019 ballot.
On March 19, 2019 the Rochester Public School Board unanimously approved the calling of a special election for issuing general obligation school building bonds.
A brief summary of what this means:
- The first question will address capacity at elementary and middle schools, safety at all school sites, additional land purchases for future elementary and high school growth, and auditorium upgrades at all three high schools. The investment for the projects included in the first question is $171.4 million.
- The second question, contingent on the first question passing, will address closing and repurposing the middle school pools to save money and reduce operating costs, in addition to building a competition level pool at Century High School and updating the pool dive well at Mayo High School. The investment for the projects included in the second question is $9.5 million.
- If question one and two passed, the total for both questions would equal a $180.9 million referendum.
What is the need?
In just five years, enrollment in the District has increased by more than 1,000 students. A Community Growth and Housing Study, conducted by Cooperative Strategies, reports the District will experience significant housing development over the next five years, including an additional 4,000 to 6,000 multi-and single-family units. As a result, enrollment is projected to increase by over 1,200 students. The District is currently operating near capacity.
Based on enrollment projections, the District will be operating over capacity at the elementary and middle school levels within two years. This will require additional classroom space.
The safety of our students and staff is a top priority. Some schools’ main entrances need to be redesigned to better monitor and control visitor access. Many schools’ door locking systems also need to be updated to remotely monitor all entrances, and emergency alarm systems need to be replaced to meet Americans with Disabilities (ADA) code requirements.
Finally, there are a number of support areas that need to be updated in our middle and high schools. The sound and lighting systems in the high schools’ auditoriums are in need of replacement. As well as some of the District’s pools have outlived their service life and others are in need of updates.
How did you determine the need for a referendum?
Due to increased enrollment projections and continued growth, RPS hired a team of consultants in May 2018 to help lead a Facilities Task Force. The Task Force reviewed housing studies, growth impacts, and the District’s long-term facilities maintenance plans. The Task Force developed a plan to address overcrowding in our elementary and middle schools, increase school safety, and improve educational support spaces at the middle and high schools. In February 2019, the District sent a facilities needs survey to all district residents. School Perceptions, a professional survey company, administered this survey. Results from the survey were presented to the School Board on March 5, 2019. Based on the survey feedback and data analysis, the School Board unanimously approved a special election for issuing general obligation school building bonds.
What is a bond referendum?
School Districts have limited options to pay for needed capital (building) improvements. Many Districts ask voters for permission, through a referendum election, to issue debt through a bond to make improvements. A bond is a fixed dollar value, meaning the lump-sum of money will not increase or decrease over time. The District will make payments on this bond over the next 20 years.
If successfully passed, the bond will provide the District a lump-sum of money “up-front” to be used for building improvements and construction.
Which building and construction improvements are listed on the ballot?
There are two questions on the ballot this fall.
The first question addresses capacity at the elementary and middle schools, safety at all schools, additional land purchases for future growth, and auditorium upgrades at all high schools. This investment totals $171.4 million. Specifically, question one proposes:
- Building an elementary school on existing land in NW Rochester
- Reconstructing Bishop and Longfellow Elementary Schools
- Building a middle school in SW Rochester
- Purchasing land for additional growth
- Upgrading safety and security at all schools
- Upgrading all high school auditoriums
The second question, contingent on the first question passing, addresses closing middle school pools to save money and reduce operating costs. It also addresses updating the pool dive well at Mayo High School and building a new competitive swimming pool at Century High School. The investment for question two totals $9.5 million.
What is the tax impact to me?
The estimated tax impact on a $200,000 home is $89 annually. With the addition of the second question, the tax impact on a $200,000 home would increase by an additional $7 or combined total of $96 annually. The bond is for a 20-year term.
How will the proposed projects in question one support our students?
If question one passes, the District would be able to move forward with building schools to adequately address our capacity needs. It will take three years after the bond referendum is approved before construction is completed. Schools would be available for our students in Fall 2022.
The first question also supports improvement to school entrances to meet our current safety standards. Main entrances would be redesigned to better monitor and control visitor access. Once complete, all visitors to Rochester Public Schools would be routed through a school’s main office before gaining access to the rest of the school. Additionally, the schools’ door locking systems would be updated to allow for remote monitoring of all access points and the emergency alarm systems would be replaced to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) code requirements.
Additionally, the District has a purchase agreement in place (contingent on a successful referendum) for 150 acres in SW Rochester. This would be the site of a new middle school, but would also be enough acreage for future growth. Land parcels of this size may not be available in the future and costs will likely increase.
Lastly, our students regularly use rented equipment for productions in the auditoriums. An upgrade to lighting and sound systems in all high school auditoriums would provide better quality and energy efficiency.
How will the proposed projects in question two support our students?
All high schools would have competitive swimming pools available to our students and our community. Competitive swimmers would be able to train and practice at their own school. Closing the middle school pools would save annual operating costs, and middle school swimming curriculum could still take place at the high school pools. The District would repurpose the space at the middle schools for other student-centered needs.
What happens if the referendum does not pass?
If the referendum does not pass, the District will evaluate the priorities of our tax payers and attempt to best meet the needs of our students, staff, and community. The District will be able to attempt another referendum again in 2020. In the meantime, the District may need to increase class sizes, as well as repurpose more common spaces like art and music rooms to general classrooms. Courses normally taught in those common spaces would become mobile courses, similar to “art on a cart”.