Schools upgrade gathers support

Board moves toward approval of $32 million plan

By Matthew Stolle

The Rochester School Board on Tuesday engaged in a second round of debate about how to finance more than $32 million in upgrades of the district's secondary schools.

By the end of the discussion, it was clear that, except for one holdout, the board was prepared to move forward with a series of capital improvements and renovations without a referendum.


The four schools that would benefit from the improvements are John Marshall and Century high schools and John Adams and Kellogg middle schools.

The lone voice of dissent was member Fred Daly, who urged the board to seek voter approval to "find out if people really want to spend that money."

Daly has argued that such money would be better spent on a new high school to handle the overflow of students at the high school level. The six other board members, however, disagreed.

Kim Norton, for instance, said none of the long-range studies that look at enrollment growth indicate a need for a fourth high school until sometime between 2013 and 2015. Other board members argued that even if a new high school were built, at an estimated cost of $43 million, many needs at JM would remain unaddressed.

For the first time, the board formally received a proposal that it could approve at its meeting on Oct. 7. The proposal also calls for creating a community committee that would communicate the board's plans to the public.

The proposal calls for:

Nearly $26 million in building improvements at JM, including 50,000 square feet of additional space plus major renovations.

$1 million to expand Century's cafeteria.


$1.1 million for a 6,000-foot addition at John Adams.

$4 million to update the heating and cooling systems at Kellogg.

Officials say funding for the improvements can be structured so that taxpayers will see no increase in their school tax bill, as the costs would be absorbed by growth in the community.

The funding mechanism would be the same as that used to refurbish Mayo High School, which cost $26 million. It would involve the selling of 20-year general obligation bonds and lease purchase certificates of participation.

Even as the board moved closer to a decision, it heard from both sides of the issue. At a public input session before the meeting, Chris Miksanek, who unsuccessfully sought a board seat last year, said the board has an obligation to seek voter approval. Anyone who believes spending $30 million to $35 million outside the realm of the voters, he said, was "sadly mistaken."

But proponents of the board's approach argued that it already was empowered to decide the issue as the duly elected representatives and stewards of the district.

JM staff members urged the board to move forward with the improvements. As one teacher said, JM was built for grades 10-12 but now serves grades 9-12. As the oldest of the three high schools, it was built before programs such as special education, Title 9 and English as a second language became such dominant features at the school.

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