$171 million referendum is just one week away

Created: October 29, 2019 06:44 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- In one week, Rochester residents will decide if they want to pass a $171 million referendum to deal with overcrowding issues that have plagued classrooms for years.

“We’re projected to grow another 1,200 students in the next five years, which right now we’re currently running elementary schools at 98 percent capacity, and middle schools at 99 percent capacity, so we’re just running out of room,” said Michael Muñoz, Superintendent of Rochester Public Schools.

“Our growing community will continue to do just that, grow,” said Linda Freeman, co-chair of Strong Schools for Rochester, a group that’s been encouraging people to vote yes on the referendum.

“I do not want to minimize the very real problem that RPS has. It needs more facilities, it needs smaller classroom sizes, that’s all very real,” said Angela Gupta, a parent of two kids in the district who doesn’t think the referendum is the best solution for students.

“One of the things that I’ve gotten asked before is well why didn’t we do something about this earlier? Well, we did. We did two boundary adjustments and we opened up preschool centers to free up some classrooms in the elementary, but we’re to a point where that’s no longer an option,” Muñoz said.

In March, the school board voted to put two questions on the ballot. The first question asks for $171.4 million to reconstruct Bishop and Longfellow elementary schools, build a new elementary and middle school, upgrade security, upgrade the high school auditoriums, and buy land for future expansion.

“The only option we have is to build additional schools to accommodate that growing enrollment,” Muñoz said.

“I can’t sit by and do nothing in that situation,” said Mike Vance, chair of Strong Schools for Rochester and a parent of three kids in the district.

He said the vote is personal.

“Every year I get a class list and I can see how many students are in my children’s classes and I’ve seen that number increase year to year,” Vance said.

Not every parent agrees.

“What they’re recommending is really quite large schools, and the data on that is very clear, that large schools are not good for student learning, they’re actually bad for student learning, and they’re worse for students of low-income and minority groups,” Gupta said.

Supt. Muñoz said the total number of students for each school that’s recommended, 720 students, is smaller than some existing schools.

“We have a couple elementary schools that are pushing 900 students, and you know the argument is well your smaller schools do better academically. Well, one of those 900 elementary enrollment schools is doing really well academically,” Muñoz said, citing Gibbs Elementary in Northwest Rochester.

If the referendum fails, Muñoz said all the district can do is try again.

“You know Century I think took three times to pass, and the pared-down that dollar amount each time, so if somebody’s supporting, doesn’t want the referendum to pass because they want smaller schools, that’s probably not going to happen,” he said.

The second question on the ballot, which will only apply if question one passes, is an ask for an additional $9.5 million to build a pool at Century High School and renovate the existing pool at Mayo High School.

Voting yes on the referendum is a vote to increase property taxes. For a home worth $200,000, question one would be an increase of $42/year. If both questions pass, the annual impact would be $48.


Election day is Tuesday, November 5.

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