Rochester School Board moves forward with plan to ask voters for funding renewal

The existing operating levy has been in place since 2015 and is set to expire in 2025 unless it's renewed or replaced.

Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel speaks about putting a funding proposal before voters during a school board meeting on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — As Rochester Public Schools nears the sunset of its existing operating levy, the district is getting ready to ask voters to renew the funding source.

The School Board on Tuesday directed Superintendent Kent Pekel to move forward with the process of putting a funding request before voters.

"That is an urgent priority," Pekel said.

The district's current operating levy provides roughly $16.7 million a year. That can vary, however, since it's based on the per-pupil amount of just over $900. The existing levy also can increase based on inflation without the district having to ask voters.

The existing levy has been in place since 2015 and is set to expire in 2025 unless it's renewed or replaced.


During Tuesday's meeting, Pekel said the administration has yet to determine how much the district would request from voters in the upcoming referendum. He also said they have yet to determine a timeline.

However, documentation for the meeting indicated the district could hold a referendum on the funding request this year.

The proposed referendum to renew the operating levy is just the latest step in a multi-year process by the school district to address a projected budget deficit.

During a separate agenda item, Chief Administration Officer John Carlson gave an update on the process of reducing the number of staff positions in the district, which is also part of the budgeting process. Although staffing and the proposed referendum are separate issues, they both directly relate to the school district's efforts to maintain a healthy budget.

Carlson said that between the current year to the coming school year, the district plans to reduce the number of full time equivalent positions by 104.3. Among that total, 46.8 will be teachers and 27.6 will be education support professionals (previously known as paraprofessionals).

Carlson reiterated, though, that many of the positions being eliminated are those that are currently unfilled. He said the process likely will result in lay offs for three teachers and five operations professionals.

What happened: The Rochester School Board directed Superintendent Kent Pekel to put together a referendum question to renew or replace the existing operating levy.

Why does this matter: The school district's operating levy provides more than $16 million annually, meaning the district would have to make substantial cuts if it were no longer around.

What's next: Pekel will return to the board with further details about the content of the referendum proposal as well as a timeline for it.

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
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