Rochester Schools Superintendent Responds to Rejection of Levy
Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel issued a statement today concerning the defeat of the school district's proposed technology levy in last Tuesday's elections.
Pekel says he will be recommending to the Rochester School Board the renewal of an operating levy that was approved by voters in 2015 that provides $17 million in revenue for the school district each year, adjusted for inflation. That levy is currently set to expire in 2025, but the State Legislature has authorized school districts to renew, without a referendum, existing operating levies for another 10 years.
The superintendent says the failure of the referendum will also force the school district to make at least $10 million in spending cuts for the 2024-2025 budget. He says that is due to the end of the federal COVID appropriations, which allowed the school district to maintain some core positions, for the current school year, including counselors and social workers. He says rising expenses will also require cuts with the school district’s transportation budget set to rise by about 30% next year and contract negotiations with teachers and other employee groups expected to result in significantly high costs.
Pekel also used the statement to make the case for increased local funding for the Rochester Public Schools, noting the level of property tax support for school operating expenses is significantly higher in many other Minnesota school districts of comparable size. He notes that voter-approved operating levies in many of those communities, mainly outer ring Twin Cities suburbs, are double the size of Rochester's $916 per pupil operating levy.
The superintendent's statement went on to say the school district needs to demonstrate to the community that providing the public school system with increased funding "is an investment not only in the future of our students but also in the productivity and profitability of our employers." He also stated, "I am confident that the defeat of the referendum last week was not the end of a conversation with our community about its support for education. It was the beginning."
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