School Referendum Forum

Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Michael Munoz speaks during a forum on the upcoming Rochester Public Schools Referendum. The forum, hosted by the Rochester League of Women Voters and the Rochester Public Library, was held at the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

What happens if the proposed $180.9 million school bond doesn't get a majority of voter approval after polls close Nov. 5?

“I'd have to find someone who designs desks so we can stack them,” joked Rochester Schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz.

Muñoz was making an argument for the bond Monday evening at the Mayo Civic Center during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

He answered questions submitted by attendees and online after laying out the school district’s case for the bond.

Question one on the ballot asks for $171.4 million in funding to construct an elementary school, a middle school, rebuild two existing elementary schools and update security and safety around the district. The second question asks for $9.5 million to build a pool at Century High School on district-owned land and close the three middle school pools.

If the bond passes, the new schools are targeted to open in fall 2022, Muñoz said.

The new elementary school would be constructed at Schmidt Park -- land in Northwest Rochester the school district and the city both own. Asked exactly what part of the park would have the school, Muñoz said the district is still studying the best approaches for traffic. The district wouldn’t need the entire park area for a school and playground, he added.

“I think we’re looking at about half of that,” he said.

Two elementary schools -- Bishop and Longfellow -- would be rebuilt at their current sites into 720-capacity schools. The Longfellow reconstruction plan is contingent on a land swap with Olmsted County at McQuillan Field. The school would be built on land currently owned by the county. The district would then demolish the old school and turn over the former school space to the county for park space.

If that transaction falls through, the Longfellow project would be delayed a year to open in 2023. Longfellow students would temporarily attend Friedell Middle School while the old school is demolished and a new school is built where the school stands now, Muñoz said.

Closing the three middle school pools would also save the district operating costs and maintenance on the aging pools, he added.

In the last decade, both Willow Creek and John Adams pools have needed more than $500,000 each in maintenance, he said. District maintenance schedule documents show the district projecting to have to spend about $835,000 in maintenance and repairs on the three pools over the next 10 years.

Under the bond plan, those pools would close. The pool at Willow Creek would likely become a gymnastics gym, Muñoz said. Specific use of the other schools’ pool spaces hasn’t been determined yet.

The location of a new middle school hasn’t been finalized. However, the district made an offer on 150 acres of land north of 40th Street Southwest, between Hart Farms addition and Bamber Valley Road. The offer is contingent on the bond passing and the city approving the location. If one of those things don’t happen, the district won’t buy the land and won’t be out any money on the attempted purchase, Muñoz said.

Since 2011, Rochester schools have experienced 12 percent enrollment growth. District elementary schools are at about 98 percent capacity, and the three middle schools run at about 99 percent capacity. Housing surveys estimate another 1,200 students will enter the district in the next five years.

The total bond ask would add about $48 per year to the taxes for a home valued at $200,000. Early voting at began Friday at the Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. S.W. The ballot will be available at regular polling locations Nov. 5. That poll location will also be open Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

George Hohberger, who attended the forum, said he was neutral about the bond before the event. He said after hearing the plan and about the work the district’s facilities task force did to arrive at it, he is leaning toward supporting the bond referendum.

“It seemed to be well thought out and thorough the way the task force went about their work,” Hohberger said.

That the district measured the public’s appetite for a bond referendum helped their case, he added.

“That’s going to determine whether you vote for it or not,” he said.

Sandy Hohberger said she went in leaning toward supporting the referendum, and what she heard about the three high schools needing secure entrances solidified her support.

Mike Vance, co-chairman of the Strong Schools for Rochester group that is advocating for public support of the referendum, attended the forum and said the presentation is exactly what’s needed to get support for the vote.

“I think given the facts, most of the community should see the need,” he said.

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