Walk into any classroom in a Rochester public school and your first impression is almost certain to be a sense of claustrophobia.
With elementary schools at 98 percent of capacity, middle schools at 99 percent of capacity and high schools at 94 percent of capacity, classrooms across the district exceed desired and safe levels of student population.
This is what happens when a school district's enrollment increases by 1,000 students in the past five years, as has happened in Rochester. And that's not the end of it. Enrollment is projected to increase by another 1,200 in the next five years.
"It makes sense that as the city grows, the district is going to have to grow with it," Michael Munoz, superintendent of schools, told our editorial board.
Where are we to put those additional students when schools are already at full capacity?
That's the main issue the 2019 bond referendum attempts to answer. The referendum voters will decide on Nov. 5 is divided into two questions:
-- The first would build a new elementary school in northwest Rochester, reconstruct Bishop and Longfellow schools, build a new middle school, upgrade safety and security at all schools, purchase land for future growth, and upgrade the high school auditoriums. The price tag is $171.4 million.
-- A positive vote on the second question would result in the closing of the middle school swimming pools, updating the pool at Mayo High School, and building a new competitive pool at Century High School, all of which would create efficiencies in maintenance and operating costs. The price is $9.5 million.
This newspaper has long supported Rochester Public Schools. In fact, we support public education in general. Ideally, public education is the most effective way of ensuring that all pupils have an equal opportunity to become informed, educated and active citizens. The future of our community depends on a strong public school system.
Are the schools perfect? Not by any means. They are, after all, run by and for human beings.
But we have immense respect for the efforts of educators, from classroom teachers to building and district administrators. We know the hours and energy they devote to the young people of our community.
To those who say we should expect better, we post the question: How can we expect the very best when we don't provide the ideal tools and work spaces?
We cannot expect educators to continue to do their best work in cramped and substandard facilities. And we can't expect our students to value their own education if we consign them to second-class learning spaces.
With an eye to the present and the future, we wholeheartedly support approval of Question No. 1 on Nov. 5.
The tax impact on a home valued at $200,000 is estimated at $3.50 per month.
Question No. 2, might be more problematic in the eyes of some voters. After all, $9.5 million can seem like a lot of money for recreation facilities. Until you look at it this way: Maintaining the outdated middle school pools is already costing the school district $100,000 annually, approval would give each high school essentially equal facilities, and repurposing of the space currently taken up by the middle school pools would provide needed flexibiity at those schools.
In the long run, Question No. 2 appears to be a good investment at the estimated cost of 50 cents per month on a home valued at $200,000.
We would propose, however, that the school district pledge to make those high school pools available to members of the public on a regular basis. Swimming is a life-long physical activity. Participation does not stop with high school graduation. We would like to see a community investment in swimming pools result in more opportunities for citizens to engage in this healthy exercise.
To sum up, we think the Rochester School District has done its homework, and has convincingly connected the dots from a growing city to growing school enrollment to the need for more space and updated schools.
Therefore, we support passage of both questions on Nov. 5.
Detailed information about the levy referendum, including frequently asked questions, can be found at rochesterschools.org/referendum. A property tax calculator is available at:
Early voting is available at the Edison Building.