Op-ed: Get the facts before voting on November's school referendum
I am often asked why do we need to have a referendum for our district. The honest and straightforward answer on this is that we need the money to sustain our excellence in programming.
The district has been in a planned spend down of the reserves for the past three years. This planned spend down was to ensure that budget cuts at the classroom level would not occur. The budget reserve is projected to be at 6 percent, which is the minimum amount as established by board policy, at the end of the ’15-’16 school year.
Absent additional revenue, the district will be faced with budget cuts that will most likely impact our program offerings and class sizes. RPS receives 80 percent of its funding from the state funding formulas. These amounts are set through the Minnesota Legislature. Funding at the state level has lagged more then 10 years. RPS like many other districts are faced with the tough decision to go to the voters for increases in local levy amount to generate additional revenue.
The current local levy amount for RPS is $309 per student. The state average local levy amount is $836. The largest 13 districts in the state average is $1,067 (RPS is the seventh largest district in the state).
RPS is seeking to increase the local levy by $527. This will bring RPS to the state average for local levy amount. This will also ensure that RPS is able to prevent budget cuts through at least the 2019-2020 school year.
The tax impact on a $200,000 home will be $15.28 per month. The referendum will generate $9.6 million for the 2016-2017 school year. The referendum is a 10-year payable referendum and is subject to inflation.
What can I count on as a current family in RPS? Families with upcoming and current elementary aged students can count on same or similar class sizes in comparison to what you see in our elementary classrooms at the present time. Families with upcoming or current middle school students will be able to count on the exploratory classes as well as Project Lead the Way classes and Spanish.
These courses give students the opportunity to have exposure to elective type of classes that they will see in their high school programming. Families with upcoming and current high school students can count on having Advanced Placement courses, robust foreign language offerings, robotics, accounting, construction trades, etc.
What impact will this have on our community? Successful graduates means a healthy/successful community. Many of our students will either stay in our community or return back at some point and will likely contribute to the tax base benefiting our community. Further, our community is in need of skilled workers at all levels.
The last referendum that was successfully passed in Rochester Public Schools was in 2006. The total levy increase over the past five years has been 10.91 percent. Rochester Public Schools is the only item on the ballot on Nov. 3, 2015. Please visit our website for a wealth of information on the referendum. You may also submit a question. We encourage you to get educated on the referendum and to vote on Nov 3.
Dr. Brenda Lewis is the asst. superintendent for Rochester Public Schools. Contact us if you would like to submit an op-ed to the Med City Beat.
(Cover photo: The Med City Beat)