Superintendent Recommends Closing Three Rochester Schools
Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - A report that will be presented to the Rochester School Board Tuesday evening recommends dramatic changes that will affect thousands of families with school-age children.
In an effort to implement new school start times and trim transportation and other expenses for the next school year, Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel is calling for closing three schools and redesigning school attendance areas. The schools recommended for closure due to sustained declining enrollment since the pandemic are Pinewood and Riverside Elementary Schools, and Mighty Oaks Early Learning School.
“The Attendance Options Redesign proposal is the result of two years of planning and analysis,” says Superintendent Pekel. “While the narrow failure of the technology referendum that Rochester Public Schools placed on the ballot on November 7, 2023, increases the urgency of finding savings in the school district’s transportation budget and in every other area of the district’s work, this proposal is not a kneejerk reaction to the defeat of the referendum earlier this month.”
Superintendent Pekel made his regular monthly appearance today on News-Talk 1340 KROC-AM and 96.9 FM during Rochester Today and discussed the recommendations in detail.
The superintendent's recommendations also call for relocating the Lincoln K-8 School to the Riverside Elementary building. That move would offer more space to expand enrollment for the existing Districtwide Option School in a newer facility.
The current 45-15 schedule used at the Longfellow Elementary option school would also be discarded as a cost-cutting move. Under the plan, Longfellow would adopt the same schedule used by the rest of the school district but would also expand to a K-8 program at the brand-new school building in Southeast Rochester.
Throughout the school district, school attendance areas would be redesigned with the elimination of districtwide transportation for the option schools. Under the superintendent's plan, the option schools and all other schools would have a geographically defined attendance area that would consist of a walk zone and a district-provided transportation zone. Pekel says the new attendance boundary maps should be ready to be presented to the Rochester School Board on December 5th.
Areas outside those zones would be designated as self-transport zones. Pekel says that would offer families the option of enrolling their students in any of the district's schools, provided there is enough space and they provide their own transportation. The superintendent says that, alone, would provide over $700,000 in savings by ending the current practice of busing children to the option schools from other geographical areas of the school district.
Pekel's recommendations also call for significantly expanding the School Age Child Care program (SACC) by adding staff. He hopes to attract additional people to the program by raising pay and through other incentives.
There would also be changes at Hoover and Churchill Elementary Schools. The superintendent is calling for Hoover to be used exclusively as an early childhood learning center, while Churchill would serve as the K-5 school for that area of the city.
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the plan through comments and questions using an online feedback form that will be posted on the school district website the week of December 4th. A series of in-person and virtual public input sessions in mid-December. The School Board is expected to make a final decision concerning the recommendations on January 23rd.
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