Potential changes coming to Rochester Public Schools

(ABC 6 News) – On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, Superintendent Kent Pekel will present an “attendance options redesign” during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Closing school buildings, changing start and end times, and getting rid of the year-round option. Those are all on the table. The Rochester Public School District is looking at ways to save money, and school leaders say that’s difficult when costs are only going up.

“It’s painful stuff,” said Pekel

The transportation budget is expected to increase by 30-percent next year. That’s about $3 million. The district is looking at adjusting school start times and eliminating transportation for students who attend district-wide school options.

“I like to think of it as a donut, and in the middle of that donut is the empty space which is your walk zone, that’s where you can walk [to and from school]. The donut itself is the district transportation zone. What’s different, is there would also be a self-transportation zone. So, any family that wants [to] send their kid to any school in Rochester can do it, if it’s not filled with kids who live within the donut,” said Pekel.

Samantha LeVan’s youngest daughter will be in kindergarten next year and was hoping to send her to Longfellow across town.

“For our family the transportation piece of it is less concerning. We are very lucky to have the flexibility to be able to drive our kids to wherever they need to go, but I also know there’s a lot of families that don’t have that option,” said LeVan.

But one thing that does have LeVan concerned the possibility of removing the 45-15 year-round schedule at Longfellow.

“Her therapist has recommend having a year-round school option for her because she need consistency and being a consistent space. So having a shorter summer break for her is great way for her to avoid having dysregulation,” said LeVan.

And while Longfellow could change schedules, other schools could close altogether. Mighty Oaks Early Learning School, Pinewood Elementary and Riverside Elementary School could all be on the chopping block due to low attendance.

It’s something Pekel addressed with the principals on Monday.

“It was not one of our more jovial meetings of school district leaders, but they are passionate about their schools. I could see in all their head “ok, how am I going to back there how am I going to talk to my teachers, my staff, my parents?'” said Pekel.

And while parents and school employees wait to see how this will all play out, LeVan she says she has faith the school district will do the right thing.

“I think they have to do what they have to do. I don’t envy the situation at all,” said LeVan.

The plan includes ten separate points, listed below including summaries of each point. The district will have a final plan in place by February.

Redesign School Attendance Areas

All schools in RPS other than a set of specialized programs would have a geographically defined attendance area, and students who live within that attendance area would be guaranteed a place at the school. Each attendance area would consist of a walk zone and a district transportation zone. The territory that lies beyond each school’s attendance area but within the boundaries of the Rochester school district would be defined as the self-transport zone. Families that live outside a school’s attendance area would be able to attend the school if there is space at the school and the family can provide their student with transportation to and from school. If the number of students who live in a school’s self-transport zone is greater than the number of spaces available at the school, the opportunity to attend the school would be awarded by lottery. The new attendance areas that would be put in place through the Redesign will be discussed by the School Board on December 5, 2023.

Discontinue Districtwide Transportation for Districtwide Option Schools

Students who attend the six schools in RPS that are currently identified as districtwide option schools would no longer receive transportation service from locations outside each school’s district transportation zone. Under the Attendance Options Redesign, the current districtwide option schools would receive the same level of transportation service as all other schools in the district. Any student who is currently enrolled in a districtwide option school would be able to continue attending that school if they live in the school’s attendance area or if the family can provide the student with transportation to and from the school. The Attendance Options Redesign would not make changes in the curricula or academic programs offered by the DWOs. 

Expand the School Age Child Care (SACC) Program

The district would launch a major initiative to increase the number of students who are able to attend SACC. To accomplish that objective, the district would increase compensation for SACC positions, implement new class schedules at our high schools that encourage and enable high school students to work at SACC, and create new incentives for education support professionals (ESPs) to work at SACC by providing them with eight hours of work if they want to take advantage of that option.

Expand the Newcomers Program for Multilingual Students

The Newcomers Program for students who have recently arrived in the United States and who qualify as beginner learners would be offered at an increased number of schools in RPS, with programs located in both the northern and southern sections of the school district. 

Close Schools to Adjust to Declining Enrollment

The Attendance Options Redesign includes the closure of three school and program sites. The schools recommended for closure were selected because each has experienced a sustained pattern of declining enrollment. The recommendation to close those schools is not a reflection of the quality of the educational programs that those schools offer, the dedicated work that their school staffs do for students, or the commitment of the parents and caregivers who send their students to those schools. The schools are: Mighty Oaks Early Learning School, Pinewood Elementary, and Riverside Elementary.

Reconfigure Churchill and Hoover Early Learning and Elementary Schools

Under the Redesign, Churchill would become a K-5 school and Hoover would serve only early childhood students.  

Move Lincoln K-8 School to a New Location and Expand Enrollment

Lincoln K-8 School would move into the building that is currently occupied by Riverside Elementary. An expanded Lincoln K-8 school would serve as the attendance area school for most of the students who currently attend Riverside Elementary. 

Adopt a Traditional Calendar at Longfellow Elementary and Expand the School to Grades K-8

Longfellow Elementary would become a K-8 school that utilizes the traditional school calendar rather than the 45-15 calendar on which Longfellow currently operates. Adding the middle school grades to Longfellow would enable the school to fully utilize the new and larger building that the school moved into at the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

Create a Middle School ALC

The Middle School Right Fit program would reopen in the fall of 2024 as an alternative learning center for middle school students.

Maintain Support for Students with Disabilities

Adjustments may be made in the locations of some programs for students with disabilities based upon the elements of the final version of the Attendance Options Redesign, but all students who are identified for special education services will continue to have full access to those services, including transportation service if that is included in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The proposed plan would also adjust schools’ start and end times to also maintain transportation costs, while still getting students to school on time.

The proposed plan would move elementary schools’ school day from 9:25 a.m.-3:50 p.m. (6 hours, 25 minutes) to 7:55 a.m.-2:15 p.m. (6 hours, 20 minutes)

Middle schools’ school day would move from 8:10 a.m.-2:50 p.m. (6 hours, 40 minutes) to 8:35 a.m.-3:15 p.m. (6 hours, 40 minutes).

High schools’ school day would move from 8:10 a.m.-3:20 p.m. (7 hours, 10 minutes) to 8:50 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (6 hours, 40 minutes).

According to the proposal from Rochester Public Schools, the proposal would be “impossible to implement” without substantial changes to the districts transportation system.

On June 6, the Rochester School Board directed Pekel to develop a “comprehensive plan to implement new school starting and ending times and to make other changes that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the transportation system in Rochester Public Schools.”

According to RPS, the current transportation system supports about 10,000 students and makes about 630 routed runs a day.

According to RPS, the attendance options redesign is not a reaction to the defeated technology referendum, the redesign has been in the works since June 6, 2023.