School board delays vote on Friedell Middle School

Friedell Middle School is seen Saturday, May 23, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist /

A debate pitting financial and organizational efficiency against educational opportunity for some of the Rochester School District's most gifted students remains at a stalemate.

On Tuesday, the school board passed on a decision whether to close Friedell Middle School.

The resolution put to board members: to close the school at the end of the 2021-22 school year. The school building, just north of the Olmsted County Fairgrounds on 12th Street Southeast, would be used for other purposes.

The postponement of the vote followed a nearly 90-minute discussion, the latest in a series of talks.

John Carlson, the school district's director of finance, provided a financial breakdown of two scenarios: closing and repurposing the school, and keeping it open. According to Carlson, closing the school would save the district $1.38 million in staffing costs.


“It’s disappointing that we’re talking about this all in terms of dollars and cents,” said board member Cathy Nathan. “The dollars are clear that it costs more to operate Friedell. But can we see that as an investment that we’ve made in an educational model that got good results.”

According to district data, students at Friedell have performed better than other across the school district. Part of the school is comprised of a highly-gifted program. The other part is a district-wide option that students are admitted to through a lottery.

Superintendent Michael Muñoz presented academic scores of sixth graders going into Friedell. Muñoz said the scores were higher on average than those going into the other middle schools, indicating that Friedell itself may not be responsible for fostering higher scores.

“I think it tells a little bit different story,” Muñoz said.

Board member Melissa Amundsen said it’s unfair to single out Friedell as a way to save money. She said the correct way to go about a budget-reduction process would be to list the areas where the district could reduce costs and then prioritize which ones need to happen first.

Muñoz countered, saying the discussion about Friedell would be taking place even if the school district wasn’t predicting a budget shortfall. Rather, he said the district is always looking for efficiencies it can make, and that closing Friedell would make the district more efficient.

Aside from the fact that it costs more to operate, another criticism of Friedell is that it's not as diverse as the school district overall. Chairwoman Deborah Seelinger said that if the board does vote to keep the school open, that is something to address.

“If the will of this board is to continue to keep a small middle school program at Friedell, I would lobby just as hard that we look at the practices of how we admit students and how students get into that building so that it more directly reflects the demographics of our other middle schools,” Seelinger said.


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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