- What are the questions on the ballot?
- Where is the proposed new elementary school going in NW Rochester?
- Where will the new middle school be built?
- What happens to current programs if the referendum passes?
- Will there be boundary changes?
- Can you explain how my property taxes support the school district?
- What is the difference between the 2019 Bond Referendum and the 2015 Operating Levy?
- What is the survey that Rochester Public Schools sent to community members?
- Why is the District considering building elementary schools at a 720-student capacity?
- The survey demonstrated that the projected costs to build a brand new elementary school on untouched property in NW Rochester is the same as tearing down and rebuilding on existing property. How can this be?
- 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?
- Does RPS have a standard student capacity (class size targets) per classroom?
- 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?
- Do the projected tax impacts include Century and Riverside payments sunsetting?
- If a referendum for the buildings 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.?
- When would another capital referendum be needed?
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.
See the sample ballot.
This property, currently owned by the District, is known as the Schmidt Park area, just south of Overland Drive NW. This land is approximately a 32 acres, with 16 acres owned by RPS and 16 acres owned by the city of Rochester. RPS and the city will collaborate to preserve green space and park area around the new elementary school area.
An Op-Ed published in the Post-Bulletin on October 5, 2019 summarizes the middle school location selection process and how the District is able to run the referendum without having a specific location identified.
"Rochester Public Schools (RPS) is running a referendum this fall to address overcrowding in their elementary and middle schools, increase school safety, and improve educational support spaces in the middle and high schools.
I became involved in the District's referendum process in May 2018, when RPS brought CRW Architecture and us, LHB, onboard to lead a facilities task force. We reviewed multiple data sets for months, which included the District's facilities assessment and 10-year maintenance plan, capacity data, past growth, and student growth projections based on a District housing study.
The data demonstrated the District's middle schools were operating at 99% capacity, and elementary schools were operating at 98% capacity. The task force recommended a solution for the overcrowding to the School Board in November 2018. I am going to focus specifically on the middle school solution in this letter. The group recommended building a new 1200 student capacity middle school in SW Rochester.
The District used criteria for selecting a new middle school site that included:
- District and building boundaries
- Capacities of current middle schools
- Student enrollment based on existing housing
- Student demographics such as socioeconomic status
- Distance from other middle schools
- Walk barriers
- Vehicle circulation
- Minnesota Department of Education's land size recommendations
With the above criteria in mind, the District entered into a purchase agreement with a landowner in SW Rochester near Hart Farm. The deal is contingent on two factors. First, the referendum must pass. Second, approval from the City or County to construct a new middle school. If the referendum does not pass, or if the City or County does not allow construction on this site, the District will withdraw from the purchase agreement. They will not lose any money and will have the earnest money refunded to them.
RPS has been collaborating with City departments throughout the referendum process. Together, we continue to have productive conversations regarding a middle school location. RPS can run their referendum without identifying a specific middle school site. This was recently reinforced with approval of the review and comment document filed with the Minnesota Department of Education. I am confident that the District will find a site that meets the student and District needs as well as the City's comprehensive plan.
The middle school location discussions have prompted a few inquiries about existing sites or structures. Vacant buildings, such as the ShopKo building, are not conducive to the education of students for several reasons. The State of Minnesota enforces specific health and safety codes for public schools. Also, the Minnesota Department of Education has specific physical recommendations for structures intended for educating students. The costs to retrofit these buildings and add additions to include necessities such as a kitchen, lunchroom, gymnasium, classrooms, and green space would cost more than building a new facility. In addition, it would likely cost more to operate annually and achieve lower student test scores. If the building is in the wrong geographical area, it will not help the District address it's problem of overcrowded schools, and it would likely create other student inequities.
Thanks to the work of the facilities task force, consultants, and an engaged community offering valuable feedback, the District is moving into the final weeks before November 5 with a thoughtful plan to address current overcrowding and anticipated future growth. With the successful passage of this referendum, a new middle school will open in the fall of 2022 in a location that will serve students' needs for 75+ years."
Kevin Holm is a licensed architect and LEED Accredited professional that has been designing and planning PreK-12 buildings for over 20 years. He focuses on research-based design and fact-based planning through District and community engagement.
Programming decisions will be made after the referendum passes. However, the current recommendation by the Facilities Task Force is to move the Montessori program from Franklin Elementary to Hoover Elementary School. This would address a portion of the overcrowding issues in Southeast Rochester. This would mean that the Hoover Elementary Building would then be used for a Montessori program, as well as the Early Learning School. This would also mean that Churchill Elementary, which is currently a kindergarten through second grade school, would become a K-5 walk-only, neighborhood school.
All four middle schools (Willow Creek, Kellogg, John Adams, and the new middle school if the referendum passes) would be neighborhood schools. Conversations continue regarding placement of students who qualify for Highly Gifted Services and repurposing the Friedell building for other District programs.
If the referendum passes, the District will adjust boundaries beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. The 2022-2023 school year is the year that the buildings would be open for our students.
The District will engage with families during summer/fall of 2020 as we kick-off the boundary change conversation. The District will have opportunities for public input, once we get to that point. The District's goal is to provide a recommendation on boundary changes to the school board in September 2021, which would be one year in advance of the boundary changes taking effect in September 2022. Boundary decisions have not been made at this time. The Facilities Task Force proposed boundaries earlier in the referendum process (late fall 2018) as a concept. These are not final boundaries. The referendum must pass before the District can begin conversation about 2022-2023 boundaries.
If the referendum does not pass, the District will likely make boundary adjustments for a temporary solution. The District may also study the reasons why the referendum did not pass and attempt to run another referendum in 2020.
This is an opinion editorial published in the Post-Bulletin on Saturday, March 23, 2019. It was written by Greg Crowe, Senior Financial Advisor from Ehlers Inc., which is the District's independent municipal financial advisor.
By now, you’ve likely heard that Rochester Public Schools plans to hold a bond election this fall. The District has been referring to this as a “referendum” or “bond referendum”. As the district’s independent municipal financial advisor, we’d like to offer insight as to what the district is asking of the community.
There are two types of referendums – bond and levy. Bond referendums provide funding for building improvements and construction. Levy referendums provide funding for operating expenses associated with delivering education to students (for teachers, materials, transportation, supplies, etc.) If it helps, remember that bond is for buildings, and levy is for learning! The funding the district is requesting in the November 5, 2019 election is a bond referendum, and is a fixed dollar value (meaning this dollar value will not increase or decrease). If successfully passed, this will provide the district a lump-sum of money “up-front” to be used for building improvements and construction.
Currently, Rochester Public Schools faces several facilities challenges which cannot be adequately addressed within its standard operating budget. The biggest issue facing Rochester Public Schools is the fact that the district will be operating over capacity at the elementary and middle school levels within two years as a result of enrollment growth of more than 1,000 students over the past five years. A successful bond referendum this fall will help:
- address overcrowding in the elementary and middle schools
- increase school safety district-wide
- improve educational support spaces in the middle and high schools
Ultimately, school districts have limited options to pay for needed capital (building) improvements, and many districts end up asking voters for permission – through a referendum election – to issue debt through a bond (which is like a mortgage) to make those improvements, and then make payments over time to pay off the bonds. That’s what Rochester Public Schools is proposing this fall.
Now that we have explained what the bond referendum means for the district this fall, we’d like to share how this referendum is different from the operating referendum in 2015. The successful passage of the 2015 operating levy (or operating referendum) provided annual revenue that is used to cover the operating expenses associated with delivering education to students. These funds cannot be used to build new buildings.
If you would like more information about the upcoming election, visit www.rochesterschools.org/referendum. You’ll find comprehensive background information, a tax calculator, updates and recent news, and notifications for future informational meetings; all designed to help you make an informed choice. So, please plan to come out and vote on November 5th. This is an exciting time for your community, and we want you to be involved!
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. Based on the survey feedback and data analysis by School Perceptions, the School Board unanimously approved a special election for two questions.
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.
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 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.
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, 2nd and 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 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 referendum passes, the plan should provide capacity for 7-10 years at the PreK-8 grades, based on the current capacity model. If student growth exceeds the projected model, it is likely that the district will need an additional high school as well as other facilities in the future. The Facilities Task Force and District focused on balancing future community and student growth with current operational costs and budgets.
Yes, the payments for the Century and Riverside facilities will sunset in 2020. This is accounted for, along with a conservative projection of future district assessed valuations, in our projected referendum costs. Visit the tax calculator to determine your tax impact.
- 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.