Rochester school board considers new operating levy

Rochester school board considers new operating levy

Superintendent Dr. Kent Pekel proposed putting a $19.4 million referendum on the ballot in November.

(ABC 6 News) – Rochester Public Schools has a new plan to avoid huge budget cuts.

At Tuesday’s school board study session, Superintendent Dr. Kent Pekel proposed putting a $19.4 million referendum on the ballot in November.

This comes after a $100 million capital projects levy, which would have been spread out over 10 years, failed last fall.

RELATED: Rochester Public Schools look for a new path forward after levy fails

The new request is because the $10 million donation gifted to RPS from Mayo Clinic will only last through next school year.

RELATED: RPS board officially accepts Mayo Clinic donation

School leaders say if more money doesn’t come into the district, massive cuts will follow.

“There are no other knights in shining armor coming,” said Rochester school board Chair Cathy Nathan.

If the newly proposed referendum isn’t voted through this year, the district will be forced to cut at least $20 million from the 2025-2025 budget.

“We are past cutting through muscle, and would face no choice but to cut deeply into the bones of our school system,” said Pekel. “Cutting the bone means taking drastic steps such as closing schools, raising class sizes, eliminating staff positions, and reducing critical supports for students.”

The levy Superintendent Pekel laid before the school board would not only increase the district’s revenue, but would increase each year at the rate of inflation.

“The amount of voter approved funding that Rochester Public Schools receives from its local communities compared to the funding that other school districts that serve more than ten thousand students received, Rochester ranks last,” said Pekel.

Despite last fall’s failure, a sample of 625 Rochester residents polled by the Morris Leatherman Company, a national polling company located in Minneapolis, indicates a majority of residents support another referendum.

“The district overall has a majority of trust on financial stewardship issues,” said Peter Leatherman, who conducted the poll.

Still, about 34% of people polled say they’re against it.

“17% are making a cost calculation, either their taxes are currently too high or the cost of the request is too high,” said Leatherman.

Support for another levy is highest when the money maintains academic programs and staff pay and benefits.

However, without a successful referendum, Pekel says none of that is possible.

The school board will vote on whether to put the proposed levy on the ballot at its next meeting Tuesday, May 21.