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School task force brainstorms to relieve crowding

October 14, 2018

A host of brainstorming ideas for relieving pressure on Rochester’s overcrowded public schools — from building a new middle school to tearing down and building three new, larger elementary schools to moving programs to new sites — will be presented to the Rochester School Board on Tuesday.

The potential changes represent the work of a 30-member Facilities Task Force that began meeting in June in closed-door sessions to study ways to enlarge capacity in the district’s schools.

On Friday, Rochester Superintendent Michael Muñoz posted a four-minute video on the district’s website updating the task force’s work while emphasizing its preliminary nature. Public input will be a critical part of the decision-making process, he said.

“I want to really emphasize that these are just a lot of brainstorming ideas that the task force has started to look at,” Muñoz said. “Tuesday, we’ll get feedback from the board, and then we’ll continue to pursue these different options.”

Some of the changes being proposed include:

• Expanding the student capacity at Bishop, Churchill and Longfellow elementary schools by tearing down the existing schools and building larger ones on the existing property.

• Moving the Montessori program from Ben Franklin Elementary School to Hoover Elementary School, thereby increasing capacity in the southeast part of the city.

• Relocating the newcomer programs at Riverside Central Elementary School and the Spanish Immersion Program at Gage Elementary School to either Bishop or Bamber Valley elementary schools.

• Moving Longfellow Elementary School’s year-round 45-15 program to Pinewood Elementary School and making Churchill and Lincoln K-5 schools.

• Closing Friedell Middle School and shifting the highly gifted program there to a new middle school that would likely be built in the southwest part of the city.

District officials say the changes are not only meant to open up more space for a growing district, but to balance out the diversity in the schools and increase the number of students who can walk to school.

The proposed changes are packaged as three different options for the board to choose from, but the board could also pick and choose ideas from the various options.

Rochester currently serves 18,162 students and has been growing annually for several years.

The price tag for the potential changes and building projects would depend on which measures, if any, the board chooses to adopt. But potentially the cost could run into the tens of millions of dollars. More information on the financing of these ideas was expected to be presented at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday.

The task force was formed last May after the board rejected boundary adjustment plans to relieve congestion in some schools. Made up of community members, parents and district staff, the task force was asked to come up with long-range plans to address the challenge.

In October, the board approved boundary adjustments for the 2019-20 school year that affected 120 students. The task force has been working with two firms, CRW Consulting and LHB engineering consultant.

“The reason why the consultants and task force are bringing this on Tuesday is because we want to hear from the board: Is this something that they would like us to explore further,” RPS spokeswoman Heather Nessler said.

A Citizen Voice Meeting will be held Nov. 7 at the Edison Board Room, 615 Seventh St. SW, to provide more information to the public and solicit feedback. People can also livestream the meeting on YouTube (@ISD535).

“”We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to hear about what’s going on and try to understand it,” Nessler said.