Referendum FAQs

The most common FAQs can be found below. FAQs will be updated as necessary for clarification. If you have a question that has not been answered here, please email your questions to the rpsvote@rochesterschools.org.

What does RPS have on the Ballot this Fall?

What will the referendum fund for Rochester students? 
The referendum funds will be used to harness the power of technology to accelerate learning, support teaching, and increase school safety. It will provide $10.1 million for technology and, by doing that, will enable the school district to redirect $7 million that is currently used to fund technology to keep average class sizes across the school district at current levels. 

What happens if the referendum is not approved?
While the school board has not made any decisions, RPS expects a $7-$10 million annual revenue shortfall without new revenue from the referendum. As a result, the school district would be forced to make budget reductions equal to or greater than that amount to achieve a balanced budget for the 2024-2025 school year. 

Does the school district really need $10 million per year in new funding for technology? 
Yes. Four critical priorities drive technology needs in RPS – school safety, student learning, effective teaching, and cybersecurity – needs that both reflect the time we live in, and drive the future of student learning. 

Among school safety investments are efforts to increase the number of digital security cameras inside schools and artificial intelligence outside schools to keep students safe. Student learning investments include increasing access to information and resources at the time they are needed via a current learning device for every student, which we were able to do for the first time ever using Federal COVID funds. These funds will not be available after September 2024 to sustain this level of access. 

Effective teaching investments drive effective learning; these are the teaching and learning tools needed to provide a world class education and operate an efficient and effective world-class organization in today’s world. Finally, investments will increase cybersecurity protection to keep student and staff data safe from ransomware attacks like the one the school district overcame without paying the ransom last spring.

How is a Capital Projects (Technology) Levy different from an Operating Levy?
An operating levy generates money to support the operating expenses of a school district (e.g., staff, facilities, utilities), whereas a capital projects levy generates money to support specific types of projects as identified by Minnesota State Statute 126C.10, subdivision 14. Under this Statute, purchase or lease of computer hardware, software, and annual licensing fees; purchase or lease assistive technology or equipment for instructional programs; purchase or lease of textbooks and library media resources or technology; and employing the staff directly related to the acquisition, operation, and maintenance of technology are all approved expenses with a capital projects levy.

Is it true that teachers have been given hand-me-down computers?
Yes, the main funding source RPS currently utilizes for purchasing computers can only be used to purchase student devices. As a result, prior to the receipt of federal COVID funding, RPS was only able to provide teachers and other staff with devices that had been used by students for at least three years. Because all federal COVID funding has been allocated and must be expended by September 2024, that source of funding will no longer be available to purchase computers for staff. The technology levy would resolve this problem by providing RPS with an authorized source of funding for staff devices.  

What kinds of curriculum updates can we expect to see with this new money?
We will be investing in research-based curricula in core academic subjects, starting with our highest priorities in reading and science. 

How will this money make a difference for kids?
After years of budget reductions to stabilize the system, and development of an aggressive strategic plan for transformation, RPS stands ready for an investment in the tools necessary for a world-class education. These include technology priorities in school safety, student learning, effective teaching, and cybersecurity. Our students will benefit directly from these investments in safe environments, rich with opportunities to develop the skills necessary for success in career and life. 

Is the teacher’s union in favor of this levy?
Yes, Rochester Education Association has expressed its full support for this levy. In fact, members of REA, in cooperation with community advocates, on their own time, are establishing phone-banking and mailers in support of the referendum.

What happens at the end of 10 years of this levy?
This capital projects levy comes with a formal end date, and there is no mechanism available today to extend this levy beyond those ten years. 

What did the surveys that you did in December 2022 and May 2023 say about how the community felt?
The Morris Leatherman Company was retained by Rochester Public Schools to perform two scientific random-sample surveys of the school district’s registered voters in order to gauge the community’s reaction to proposals related to increasing the District’s operating levy and implementing a technology levy, and to evaluate perceptions about the school district in general. 

An initial survey occurred in December 2022, with a follow-up survey in May-June 2023, to measure whether opinions about the proposed levies had shifted during the intervening months.

Surveys indicate support for the capital projects (technology) levy has grown over time. In both surveys, a majority of respondents supported increasing their financial support for RPS students through a capital projects (technology) levy. 

One piece of great news from formal surveys conducted this past year is that 94% of current RPS parents trust RPS to do what is best for kids. We are proud to have earned your trust.

Voting Information

How and where can I vote for the referendum? 
Minnesota offers three ways to vote - early in person, by mail, or on election day. 

  • You can vote early in-person between September 22 and November 6, with an absentee ballot at Olmsted County Elections, 2122 Campus Dr SE, Suite 300. Starting 7 days before the election, you can also vote early at the Government Center downtown at 151 4th St SE, Conference Room 2. If you are not registered, you can do so in person if you show proof of residence.

  • To vote by mail, apply to have an absentee ballot mailed to you. You do not need to be registered to apply. Visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office website for instructions and a downloadable application. Allow plenty of time for mailing, as your returned ballot must be received by Election Day.

  • To vote on Election Day, November 7, you must go to your assigned polling place between 7 AM and 8 PM. You can locate your polling location via the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office website or call 1-877-600-VOTE (8683). If you need to register to vote on Election Day, you’ll have to bring some things with you. This flier explains

Where do I vote?
To find your polling place, visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website and use the Polling Place Finder tool or call 1-877-600-VOTE (8683).

QR Code poll finder

Poll Finder

QR Code Proof of Residence

Proof of Residence

Financial Information

Is RPS using its existing resources efficiently?
Yes, RPS has made $21 million in reductions over the past two years to ensure the district is balancing revenues with expenditures. In addition, for each of those years, RPS received a perfect review from the school district's external auditors, confirming that funding is being tracked and monitored according to the highest financial standards. 

What did the $20+ million cut include?
For the last two school years of 2022-2023 and 2023-2024, the general fund operating budget has been reduced by a total of over $20 million of annual spending – meaning the general fund budget would be approximately $297 million this school year instead of $276 million if no reductions had been made. Since the general fund budget is primarily staff, most reductions, but not all, were in the form of full-time equivalent positions. For example, we cut 89 teaching positions, 59 education support professional positions, and 9 maintenance positions.

Isn’t this just plugging the hole from the $20+ million in cuts the last two years?
It’s true that we worked hard the last two years to eliminate over $20 million in staffing and other expenses to set the stage for looking ahead and making some transformational changes going forward. This levy is not intended to restore the positions that were cut. Instead, this levy looks ahead through the lens of our strategic plan to where we need to go to deliver what our students need today and tomorrow. Since that work is critical to student success, if we can’t fund it through a levy, $7-10 million additional cuts will be necessary and class sizes will increase..

How will this referendum impact me? 
All property owners will see some level of impact on their taxes, based on the value of their property and the overall tax base in the school district. As the tax base grows, individual properties make up a smaller and smaller share of that base, meaning tax impacts over time can actually decrease. The following table lists some typical home values. View a property tax calculator to determine your actual investment.

How will this referendum impact me?

All property owners will see some level of impact on their taxes, based on the value of their property and the overall tax base in the school district. As the tax base grows, individual properties make up a smaller and smaller share of that base, meaning tax impacts over time can actually decrease. The following table lists some typical home values. View a property tax calculator to determine your actual investment.

Home Value

Monthly

Annual

$250,000

$8

$100

$325,000*

$11

$135

$500,000

$18

$235

*$325,000 is currently the average priced home in Olmsted County.

Didn’t you receive money at the legislature? Why do you need more?
The State of Minnesota made important investments in preK-12 schools during the recent legislative session, but those investments only helped RPS and other school districts partly catch up from more than a decade of funding schools lower than the rate of inflation. Schools received an increase of 4% for 2023-24 and 2% for 2024-25. on the general education school funding formula and received some relief from the long-standing underfunding of mandated services for students with disabilities and for English Language Learners, which forced districts to spend general funds to make up the difference. These new revenues, while helpful, are not sufficient to fully fund these and other State and Federal mandates, to make up for decades where funding did not keep pace with inflation, or to make up for the recent period of high inflation, tight job markets, and other pandemic impacts. Those investments were welcome but won’t fully enable RPS to help all students compete and thrive in a changing world. 

How does Rochester compare to similar districts in citizen financial support?
When compared with 11 other Minnesota districts* of similar size and characteristics, Rochester has the least per-pupil revenue in operating levies, and is tied with three other districts for least in capital projects levy referendum revenue. 

Voter-approved Community Investments in Schools

District Name

Estimated Adjusted Pupil Units

Per Pupil Dollar Amount of Operating Referendum

Per Pupil Dollar Amount of Capital Projects Referendum

Per Pupil Operating + Capital Projects Total Referendum

Bloomington

11,065

$2,096

$1,024

$3,119

Minnetonka

12,314

$2,265

$750

$3,015

Wayzata

13,023

$2,102

$840

$2,941

Osseo

22,873

$2,126

$590

$2,716

Robbinsdale

11,675

$2,088

$569

$2,656

South Washington County

20,589

$1,944

$166

$2,110

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan

31,765

$1,838

$269

$2,107

Mounds View

12,485

$2,036

$0

$2,036

Lakeville

13,116

$1,630

$299

$1,929

Elk River

15,041

$1,428

$0

$1,428

North Saint Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale

11,236

$979

$0

$979

Rochester

18,587

$916

$0

$916

Average

16,147

$1,787

$348

$2,136

Note: if the 2023 Capital Projects Levy for Technology is approved, Rochester will move up the list to between Lakeville and Elk River.

*Eleven comparable districts include Bloomington, Elk River, Lakeville, Minnetonka, Mounds View, North Saint Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, Osseo, Robbinsdale, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, South Washington County, and Wayzata, with pupil units served between 11,065 to 31,765 (Rochester is 18,587) based on Minnesota Department of Education estimated Adjusted Pupil Units for 2023-24.

Does the funding that RPS received from the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic affect the levy? 
RPS used Federal COVID funding to preserve critical services for students during the pandemic and accelerate learning recovery afterward. All COVID funds have been allocated and, according to Federal law, must be expended by September 2024. As a result, those funds are not a resource for continuing support for the mission of RPS. 

What will happen to the operating levy that ends in 2025?
Under current Minnesota law, the School Board will have the option to renew that levy one time at the same level for the same number of years. 

Other Questions

Is this really the right time to increase local funding for Rochester Public Schools? 
RPS is a school district on the move, with a new strategic plan that is guiding the implementation of far-reaching change across the school district. The plan is rooted in research and informed by community engagement and is designed to make RPS one of the highest-performing diverse school districts in the nation. An early sign of the school district’s progress were the most recent high school graduation rates, where all students went up much faster than the state as a whole and students from backgrounds that are furthest behind went up the fastest.

Is the district financially responsible? 
We believe we are. The district has worked hard to be a good steward of the public’s tax money. We have made difficult decisions to reduce our budget by over $20 million in previous cuts, and up to $10 million in cuts for 2024 budget if the referendum fails. We have a Long Term AAA Rating and an Underlying AA Rating for Credit Program from Standard and Poors, which indicates the district’s strong credit-worthiness in spite of our necessity to consecutively use reserves to fund our operations, and our debt burden.

Does farm property receive some tax relief?
Yes. While the proposed capital projects levy is not eligible for tax credits, agricultural property has been paying less over the last several years for RPS bonded debt. In 2017, the Minnesota Legislature approved a 40 percent tax credit for farm land school bond taxes. In 2019, the legislature approved higher tax credits to be phased in over time. In 2022, the credit was 60 percent; it’s 70 percent in 2023 and after. (Farm families pay school operating levies on 1 acre of property that includes the house and garage.)

Does increasing funding for schools have any effect on academic outcomes?
The most rigorous research shows that, as scholars C. Kirabo Jacson and Claudia Persico put it, “there is a strong causal relationship between increased school spending and student achievement.” To read the scholar’s review of that research, please visit https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/pam.22520