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School board wants to stop student exodus from Rochester

School board wants to stop student exodus from Rochester

Rochester public schools have a problem. The district is losing students to other districts.

The problem has existed for years. But as the Rochester School Board begins to grapple with the issue, it will discover that the district has lost an increasing number of students in the last couple of years.

Figures provided by the district show that the number of students who have left Rochester for surrounding districts or other educational options has grown from 1,199 students in 2008-2009 to 1,449 students in 2010-2011 — a 21 percent increase.

During the same period, the number of students choosing Rochester from outlying districts has increased marginally from 222 students in 2008-2009 to 233 in 2010-2011 — a 5 percent increase.

Rochester Superintendent Michael Muñoz and the school board plan to discuss ways to entice students to return to their home district. A range of options are being considered, from all-day, every-day kindergarten to online education options to an International Baccalaureate diploma program.

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But the numbers suggest that the scale of the problem will be a daunting one for district leaders. Rochester enrolls an estimated 16,443 students in its schools, so in losing nearly 1,500 students to open enrollment, the district is losing 9 percent of its current enrollment.

"It's actually one of the things in which I believe Rochester schools can do better," said board chairman Dan O'Neil.

The loss of students to outlying districts also takes a financial toll. Districts are funded on a per-pupil basis. This year, districts are supposed to receive $5,174 in per-pupil funding from the state. For a district that is losing 1,500 students, that means about $7.5 million in state aid is lost.

Rochester is not alone in trying to reverse the tide of outgoing students. St. Paul also is attempting to reclaim students lost to open enrollment, O'Neil said.

O'Neil believes Rochester needs to offer an all-day, every-day kindergarten program to more parents.

"I will beat that drum for days," he said. "Some kids are leaving because there's either all-day, every-day kindergarten or something else about kindergarten that is working better for those families, and they never return."

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