Minnesota school district considers closing three schools as enrollment and funding decline 

A Minnesota school district is proposing the closure of three schools as part of a 10-point proposal to reduce spending.  

Rochester Public Schools released the proposed plan,…

A Minnesota school district is proposing the closure of three schools as part of a 10-point proposal to reduce spending.  

Rochester Public Schools released the proposed plan, “Attendance Options Redesign” on Monday with the purpose of changing “school attendance options, attendance boundaries and the transportation system.” 

“The Attendance Options Redesign proposal is the result of two years of planning and analysis,” Superintendent Pekel wrote in a press release. “While the narrow failure of the technology referendum that Rochester Public Schools placed on the ballot on November 7, 2023, increases the urgency of finding savings in the school district’s transportation budget and in every other area of the district’s work, this proposal is not a kneejerk reaction to the defeat of the referendum earlier this month.” 

On Nov. 7, Rochester residents rejected a tax levy proposal aimed at allocating $10.2 million annually to the district for the next decade, according to local television station KTTC.  

“That is the worst recommendation a superintendent can make,” Pekel said according to KKTC. “I don’t make it lightly, but given the fact that we now need to cut $10 million from our budget, we don’t really have a choice but to find savings anywhere we can.” 

In addition to needing more finances, Pekel says the recommendations were made because of the district’s decreasing enrollment.  

“We’ve gone down a bit more than 700 kids,” Pekel said. “Now, that’s slightly less than 4%. It’s not plummeting enrollment, but that’s the size of a good-size middle school or a big elementary school. When school districts maintain space that they don’t have the number of kids to occupy, they are redirecting dollars from across the district to subsidize those schools.” 

As part of the plan, three schools are recommended for closure: Riverside Central Elementary School, Mighty Oaks Early Learning School and Pinewood Elementary School. Those schools, the district says, have “experienced a sustained pattern of declining enrollment.”  

In addition, the school district recommended making cuts to its transportation services.  

“Students who attend the six schools in RPS that are currently identified as districtwide option schools would no longer receive transportation service from locations outside each school’s district transportation zone,” the proposal states. “Under the Attendance Options Redesign, the current districtwide option schools would receive the same level of transportation service as all other schools in the district.  

“Any student who is currently enrolled in a districtwide option school would be able to continue attending that school if they live in the school’s attendance area or if the family can provide the student with transportation to and from the school.” 

Many parents within the district are worried about what this might mean for their children.  

“The added gas is not a ton but that’s extra gas, that’s extra time, extra stress all of that,” one parent said, according to KTTC. “So that would lead to some tough conversations about where our daughter would go next year.”  

“Where do we go? That’s my frustration,” another parent asked. “One of the reasons why we picked this neighborhood was because Pinewood is here. It is a small neighborhood, small school, small class sizes and my son loves it here.” 

Before the proposal can be implemented it must be approved by the Rochester School Board before Feb. 1, 2024.