Potentially painful cuts ahead for Rochester Public Schools
(ABC 6 News) – Rochester Public School Superintendent Kent Pekel laid out what the future of the district’s finances could be after its $100 million ballot referendum failed to pass in last week’s election.
By a slim margin, voters rejected the request from RPS by just over 300 votes, out of a total of more than 22,000.
Tuesday’s school board meeting was a full house, with dozens who had attended a rally for smaller class sizes outside the Edison building just beforehand, coming in to hear the board’s plans for the district’s future.
The school board and members of the community voiced their disappointment over the referendum failure.
“I believe that this can and should be a turning point for education in our community,” said Pekel.
If passed, the referendum would have granted RPS $10.1 million dollars each year for the next ten years. That money would have gone to technology improvements in the district, but also free up other money in the budget to keep class sizes small.
Teacher at John Marshall High School and Vice President of the teacher’s union Rochester Education Association (REA), Simon Glaser, says most affects the district at the elementary school level.
“At elementary, there’s no limit to how many students they can put into a class, which is at times ineffective, at times it makes teachers overworked, sometimes it’s just dangerous to have that many students and just not enough space for them,” said Glaser.
Without the referendum funding, the district expects to make at least $10 million worth of budget cuts for the next school year.
“We would need to make painful cuts that will damage the education and development of our community’s youth,” said Pekel.
Another reason the school board is concerned about making budget cuts, is because they plan to raise wages for teachers, bus drivers and other staff.
“Recognizing the extraordinary work that REA members do with and for our students every day and the rising costs that they face in supporting their own families in today’s economy, I have proposed to the union that we increase the total cost of their next contract with the school district by 14.88% over the current contract,” said Pekel.
The school board also voted to approve a 29.5% pay increase for First Student bus drivers.
The board is considering renewing the 2015 operating levy, which grants the district $17 million per year, without raising taxes.
Voters may see another capital projects levy on the ballot in next year’s election.