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The most common FAQs can be found below. FAQs will be updated as necessary for clarification. If you have a question that has not been answered here, please email your questions to the Communications email.

What are the questions on the ballot?

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. 

See the sample ballot.

What is the difference between the 2019 Bond Referendum and the 2015 Operating Levy?

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!

What is the survey that Rochester Public Schools sent to community members?

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.  

Why is the District considering building elementary schools at a 720-student capacity?

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.

Does RPS have a standard student capacity (class size targets) per classroom?

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.

Where is the proposed new elementary school going in NW Rochester?

Northwest Property

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.

Where will the new middle school be built?

The District and City of Rochester are working together to identify a site that meets the goals of both the District and City.

The District has a purchase agreement in place, contingent on a successful referendum, for 150 acres in SW Rochester near Hart Farm. The District felt this location was most suitable based on a number of factors including addressing current capacity need in SW Rochester, separation from other schools, it is walkable and bikable, MDE site size recommendations, it's a shared site for future growth. Land parcels of this size may not be available in the future and costs will likely increase. If the referendum is not approved, the purchase agreement will be terminated and the District will receive its earnest money back.

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?

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.

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 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 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?

One of the primary focuses at these sites will be improving traffic flow and site safety relative to walking. The sites will have separation of traffic types to improve overall traffic congestion and vehicle capacity.

Why can’t the District use the Edison building for students and have the administrators move out?

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.

Why did the District sell the MSB building if they’re in such need of space?

The district is short on educational space. This building is neither conducive to education nor in the correct location to address student growth.

How many years will these improvements serve the District?

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.

Do the projected tax impacts include Century and Riverside payments sunsetting?

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. There is a tax table available on BoardDocs, or you can visit the tax calculator to determine your tax impact. 

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.?

  1. By October 1, 2022, when the new schools open, we project to be 619 students larger than we are today.
  2.  This would be approximately 885 pupil units more than today.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

When would another capital referendum be needed?

Depending on growth, between 5 and 20 years.

What happens to current programs if the referendum passes?

Programming decisions will be made after the referendum passes. However, the current proposal 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.

Can you explain how my property taxes support the school district?

This brief video helps explain how property taxes support the school district.