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Survey shows 55% of voters would approve levy increase for Rochester Public Schools

The earliest the school district could host an election on the matter would be next fall.

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Don Lifto with the Morris Leatherman Company speaks with the Rochester School Board on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, about the results from a community survey.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Survey results show that 55% of voters would approve increasing the per-pupil levy for Rochester Public Schools.

The Rochester School Board discussed the results of a community survey on Tuesday with Don Lifto of the Morris Leatherman Company, which collected the data. Superintendent Kent Pekel indicated the results were positive for the district moving forward with the proposal.

"I don't see a lot of fodder for an organized Vote No campaign," Pekel said.

Minnesota school districts have taxing authority. However, school officials say the state's funding formula hasn't kept up with inflation. Because of that, many school districts ask voters to approve a tax levy on top of the base amount the district is allowed to tax without having to ask voters.

In contrast to the initial 55% that would approve the increase, 16% had no opinion, and 29% opposed the increase.

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Once respondents were given more information, the percentage that said they would support an increase in the levy rose to 60%.

Rochester Public Schools already has a voter-approved operating levy, which is due to sunset at the end of the 2025-26 year. The current per-pupil amount is $879.

There was much stronger support in the survey when respondents were asked if they would simply support renewing the levy the district already has rather than increasing it. According to the data, 85% would support renewing the existing levy. In comparison, 10% would oppose renewing the levy, and 5% had no opinion on the issue.

In addition to collecting information on the general, per-pupil levy, the school board also discussed the possibility of asking voters to approve a levy specifically for technology.

The initial support for the technology levy was 52%. In contrast, 35% opposed the proposal, and 13% did not have an opinion. The initial support increased to 55% once respondents received additional information about the proposal.

The survey also asked respondents how they would react if both proposals were asked during a referendum. According to the results, 49% of the respondents said they would support both levies — meaning an increase to the general per-pupil levy as well as the implementation of the technology levy.

Meanwhile, 22% would oppose both proposals, 16% said they would only support the operating levy increase, 4% said they would only support the technology levy, and 9% didn't have an opinion.

The earliest the school district could host an election on the matter would be next fall. Lifto clarified that although the district may have strong support at the moment, that could change depending on the circumstances.

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"How is the stock market going to be doing a year from now? How is inflation going to be doing a year from now? What's going to be going on in Ukraine a year from now," Lifto said. "There are endless variables."

Referendum Survey Summary Dec. 6 by inforumdocs on Scribd

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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