Rochester Public Schools putting future of technology in voters hands this fall

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(ABC 6 News) – School will be back in session soon for Rochester Public Schools and there’s a big focus on the district at the ballot box this fall.

On November 7, voters will decide the future of the districts technology with the upcoming referendum proposal. Many things will change if it passes including an increase in property taxes to $11.99 a month and new measures to prevent future cyber attacks like the on that occurred at Rochester Public Schools this spring.

“Cyber attacks against schools is not necessarily new but we are seeing that threat continue to evolve and target more and more organizations,” – John Isreal, Interim Chief Information Security Officer at MNIT.

Stronger network security, upgrades to curriculum, and greater collection of data to find disparities across classrooms. These are just a few things that are apart of the proposed technology levy referendum put forth by Rochester Public Schools.

Even before RPS faced a cyber attack on Easter weekend, the School board was putting together plans for this levy and tech upgrades. But after the cyber attack occurred, it put things in perspective for Superintendent Kent Pekel and the Rochester School Board as they put the finishing touches on this proposal.

“I think it highlighted the central role of technology in our school district for sure,” said Pekel. “Which is one of the reasons why we’re recommending this type of levy as opposed to an operating levy because it shows how central technology is to everything we do.”

The ‘Technology for Transformation’ referendum will add additional security measures to ensure the same mistake doesn’t happen again. Pekel says the district has found out the reason to why the cyber attack happened in the first place, tracing it to an identical password someone in the district had to a social media account. They then click on a link that gave access to the malware for a cyber attack.

“What the software will allow to do is have much more aggressive authentication procedures and monitoring procedures so that when there is unusual activity in our network, we can spot it much, much faster,” said Pekel on software upgrades proposed.

Upgraded security measures are important for RPS moving forward. Another priority is the ability for students to have the same access to technology at home as they do in the classroom.

“We are at equity in devices. We don’t have good data on how many of our kids have good internet access at home. I’ve thought I wish we did have some better information on RPS families quality of internet at home,” Pekel said.

RPS Staff cannot campaign for this referendum as employees for the district, but can do so as private citizens.

Pekel has said that if the referendum fails to pass on November 7, it is very likely the Rochester School Board will revise it’s proposal and put it to the ballot box again in 2024 or 2025 at the latest.