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Rochester Public Schools estimates cost of data request at $901,121

In total, the district has estimated the 41-page request will take 13,478 hours to fulfill.

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Jean Marvin, chair of the Rochester Public Schools School Board, speaks during a meeting on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, at the Edison Administration Building in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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Rochester Public Schools has estimated it will cost a little more than $900,000 to fulfill a large-scale data request it received about critical race theory, equity and other hot-button issues.

In total, the district has estimated the request will take 13,478 hours to fulfill, the equivalent of nearly 337 40-hour work weeks. That amounts to what would be roughly 6.4 years of labor for an individual person. It's estimated to cost $901,121.

"The reason the number of hours got so large is because of the broad nature (of the request)," said John Carlson, the district's director of finance. "We basically have assumed all administration and all teachers would have to go through their records and spend a couple of hours or more each searching for the terms asked as it’s not a query that a computer can run for us in the background. We assumed our staff need to look through their textbooks, their paper files, and their electronic files."

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The district received the data request in late September. A Minneapolis-based law firm submitted the request on behalf of an anonymous organization called Equality in Education. According to their attorney, Nicholas Morgan, the organization "is a group of concerned parents and taxpayers residing in the Rochester School District.

The data request is 41 pages long and asks for a large amount of information, ranging from text messages and emails to slide shows, curriculum and lists of conferences and seminars that staff have been able to attend. The request asks for the information going back two years.

Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel echoed Carlson's comment about the broad nature of the request.

"It included major requests for information that can’t be pulled down with a keyword search, such as access to any curriculum with a 'sociological theme,' " Pekel wrote in an email. "Someone with significant knowledge of curriculum would need to conduct the research to fulfill that request."

The school district may be able to pass at least some of the cost on to the organization making the request.

According to Pekel, the Minnesota Department of Administration will decide what the district can charge the organization if there is a dispute over the issue.

However, "we likely can't pass the whole cost on," he said.

Equality in Education has not yet determined whether it will choose to move forward with the request. The school district presented the cost to them, but they have not yet made a decision.

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"My client and I are reviewing the itemized list of costs provided by the Rochester Public School’s legal counsel and have no further information at this time," Morgan said via email.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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