Rochester School District’s 28% Referendum

There’s an election in Rochester on November 3.


There’s just one thing on the ballot: should the Rochester School District (#535) be allowed to raise the extraordinary levy from $309.79 to $836.82? (Their stated number is $578 but a look at their details begs the use of our number.) This will raise an additional $9 million per year for a budget that runs around $200 million. The current levy expires next year; the new one would be for 10 years and automatically increase with inflation.

The District says this is needed because funding has not kept pace with inflation and that cuts have been avoided in recent years by using General Fund reserves which are now exhausted. The District says a yes vote will avoid budget cuts through the 2019-20 school year and that a no vote may result in program and staff cuts, and increased class sizes.

Here are some details about the District’s request, spending, and options. How and whether you vote is up to you.


The request seems to represent a 28% increase in overall District local taxation.

By the District’s own reckoning, they are asking to replace a $310 extraordinary levy per student with one of $837. That’s a 170% increase in that piece of District funding.

There are a lot of numbers flying around and converting from dollars-per-student to our property taxes is not easy nor exact for any individual taxpayer. But their tax calculator shows an increase of $183 per year for a house valued at $200,000. Match that with their calculation (on page 10) that a $200,000 house is paying $660 for District funding this year, and we come to a 28% increase.

The Scoop understands that Minnesota just increased its education funding and that the School Board just increased its automatic portion of local funding. Who is already providing those dollars?

The $837 request, by the District’s own admission, is based on matching the average extraordinary levy across the state of Minnesota. They also did some polling to see what the population could stand. Are other districts building new schools; paying off extraordinary debt; living in nicer neighborhoods? What is the correlation between the average of state levies (along with what the population may accept) and Rochester’s financial situation plus education priorities?

The request comes at a time when our cities and county will be increasing taxes. Health care costs are up for most of us, too. Is it reasonable to be asking for a 28% increase on the basis of an average that has no obvious bearing on Rochester’s means or needs?

It’s not clear that the District has considered all its operations and all its options for assuring good education value for our children and us taxpayers. Is it just easier for them to ask for more money?

However you see it, consider exercising your civic duty on November 3. (See the Conclusion for early voting details.)


The Scoop is as interested in quality education as anyone or any group. We’re also interested in quality management. Does this referendum pass the second interest?

Continue reading Rochester School District’s 28% Referendum

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