Rochester Public Schools has been reviewing enrollment projections and building capacities throughout the past several years. Due to increased enrollment projections, we believe the evidence supports building a new school or schools. RPS hired a team of consultants in May 2018 to help lead a Facilities Task Force. The district asked for public input via a survey mailed to all district residents and is administered by School Perceptions in the month of February 2019. Results from the survey were presented to the School Board on March 5, 2019. The School Board will decide the next steps for the referendum by April 2, after reviewing and discussing the survey results.
The bond referendum is on the agenda for the March 19, 2019 School Board Meeting as an action item.
- Why is the district building elementary schools at a 720-student capacity?
- Does RPS have a standard student capacity (class size targets) per classroom?
- If schools were to be torn down and rebuilt, where would the students that attend those schools go to school? Is it safe to have students on a construction site?
- The cost of an elementary school at a 720-capacity ($33 million) compared to a middle school at a 1200-student capacity ($60 million) seems disproportionate. Explain these figures.
- Why are the projected costs the same for a brand new school on untouched property (NW property) vs. tearing down and rebuilding on existing property?
- What is the exact property that the district owns in the NW part of Rochester?
- The schools that have proposed tear down and rebuilds are already incredibly tight with traffic flow both at and around the school. Is there a plan to address the traffic flow?
- Why can’t the district use the Edison building for students and have the administrators move out?
- Why did the district sell the MSB building if they’re in such need of space?
- How many years will these improvements serve the district?
- Why is there a differential in student population growth models?
- When would another capital referendum be needed?
- Why isn’t the rebuild of Churchill Elementary in the base plan?
- The survey indicates that the middle school pools could close and be repurposed. What if middle schools want to keep swimming as part of their curriculum?
- Do the projected tax impacts include Century and Riverside payments sunsetting?
- If a referendum for building pass, will RPS will be coming back to the community with an operating referendum (to cover costs for additional teaching staff, support staff, building upkeep, maintenance, more transportation, etc.?
The district (RPS) is balancing the efficiencies of building size and some public opinion for small schools. In many districts across the nation and in Minnesota, elementary school facilities are being designed for more than 1,200 students. RPS already has five elementary schools that serve 720 or more students. These schools continue to receive positive feedback from parents and students. In RPS buildings of 720+ students, each grade level has 4 to 5 classes (or sometimes called sections), all meeting the class size targets. The RPS School Board has set class size targets. Overall building capacity would change if the district modifies student class sizes in the future. A 720-capacity building physically maximizes the flexibility for the district in the future as education (and the delivery of teaching) evolves.
The Rochester School Board approved the following class size targets in 2010 to accommodate operational costs and the increase in student population. Kindergarten target size is 20, 1st Grade is 24, 2ndand 3rd is 29 and 4th and 5th is 31. If a grade population at a building exceeds those sizes by a few students, a classroom and additional teacher are allocated for an additional section, if there is a room available. With smaller schools there is less flexibility to balance class size, and in growing district, schools are frequently at the maximum class size or slightly over due to lack of space and or prohibitive operational costs for additional teachers.
The safety of our students and staff will always remain a top priority for RPS. In most, if not all cases, students will continue to attend their elementary school while construction occurs on the other side of the physical site. The district has successfully executed construction projects with this similar model in the past, most specifically with the full addition to Hoover Elementary School during the 2017-2018 school year. As with any other construction project, RPS follows very strict protocol on construction sites so that our students and staff will not be in harm’s way. Because this is a multiple year process, prior to June 2022, the existing building would be demolished and the remaining site work would occur prior the start of school in the fall of 2022.
Middle schools have additional spaces such as an auditorium and additional physical education space. This results in a higher ratio of square feet per student and therefore a higher cost per student. Site improvements and land costs are also greater due to the larger physical space, which adds to the higher cost per student.
A new school requires additional utility and site work including costs to tie into city utilities. The existing sites have building demolition and are typically smaller sites for development. The projected costs are within a margin of error for estimates and inflation over the next 3 years before they are complete.
The Edison building is not in a conducive location relative to other existing schools and student growth. Additionally, the Edison building was retrofitted for office space more than 35 years ago. For example, this building does not have a kitchen/lunchroom, gymnasium, nor current spaces of adequate size that could be repurposed as classrooms without major construction. The cost to relocate the district office and return Edison to an educational facility would cost more than building a new facility.
If the district has community support to execute the base plan, the plan should provide capacity for 7-10 years at the PreK-8 grades, based on the current capacity model. Additional options within the survey, such as the rebuild of Churchill Elementary to a 720-capacity school, would provide additional capacity at the elementary level beyond the 7-10-year forecast. However, if student growth exceeds the projected model, it is likely that the district will need an additional high school as well as other facilities. The Facilities Task Force and district are balancing future community and student growth with current operational costs and budgets.
Cooperative Strategies, LHB, and the Facilities Task Force worked with city and county data regarding housing stock and building permits for both multi-family and single-family units. Each housing type has a specific student yield ratio that was used for populating the models. Over the past 15 years housing development has varied dramatically based on the economy. In anticipation of projected growth of the Destination Medical Center and other factors, a model of growth was developed that is probable. If the economy were to change dramatically that could impact the model either up or down and change the duration of educational space planning included in this plan.
High student growth models indicate a rebuild of Churchill Elementary to a 720-capacity school is needed but the conservative models indicate it will not be necessary for a number of years. The Facilities Task Force recommended asking the public this question in order to gauge the community’s perceived need and tolerance. This feedback from the public will help the RPS School Board make the decision whether or not to include the project in the referendum.
- By October 1, 2022, when the new schools open, we project to be 619 students larger than we are today.
- This would be approximately 885 pupil units more than today.
- Because we are funded largely on a per pupil unit formula, we will have additional revenue from the new students that we do not have today, which will be used to cover increased costs.
- Locally, using today’s rates, the per pupil funding formula of $1,486.35 will provide an additional $1,315,420 per year for operating costs.
- Using the current State aid rate, the per pupil funding formula of $6,312 will provide an additional $5,586,120 per year for operating costs.
- This is a total of $6,901,540 of additional revenue to pay for operating costs, which we consider to be additional principals, office managers, custodians, school nurses, teachers, utilities, etc.
- We cannot promise that we will never have to return for an additional operating referendum in the future. Our financial status in our general operating fund is largely driven by the State’s per pupil funding formula and the Special Education reimbursement rate. If both of those formulas do not keep up with inflation, we’ll eventually need to seek an additional operating referendum to continue what we have today. However, that is not our plan at the present time.