Mayo Clinic giving Rochester Public Schools $10M to avoid controversial redistricting plan

Century High School in Rochester
Century High School in Rochester. Mayo Clinic is giving Rochester Public Schools $10 million to help it avoid a sweeping and controversial redistricting plan.
Courtesy of Rochester Public School District

Updated 9:32 a.m.

Mayo Clinic is giving Rochester Public Schools $10 million to help it avoid a sweeping and controversial redistricting plan.

The funding will prevent the district from having to close three schools and dramatically scales back a plan to eliminate busing for a host of schools that award spots based on a lottery system.

But the funding is a one-time gift, leaving the district needing to close the budget gap that prompted the redistricting proposal.

A man listens during a meeting.
Superintendent Kent Pekel listens during a Rochester Public Schools board meeting in Rochester on July 27, 2021.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2021

Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel said that the funding is a bridge. He will ask the school board to once again put a referendum that would raise $10 million annually for the district back on the ballot in 2024.

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It failed narrowly this year. Pekel said that in coming months, the district will be getting feedback from the community members on what they’re willing to vote for. He said the district will also be weighing when the referendum is put on the ballot given what’s expected to be a contentious presidential election next year.  

Pekel said that if the referendum fails again, “we will be back here a year from now.”

This extraordinary gift given at an extraordinary moment in the life of our community enables and empowers us to continue our work to raise the academic achievement of all students,” said Pekel. “This investment from Mayo Clinic means RPS can avoid closing schools, raising class sizes, and cutting programs.”

Mayo Clinic has never given the district a single gift of this size.

“Strong performing schools set our kids up for long-term success, and are critical to the health and vibrancy of our community,” said Mayo Clinic Chief Communications Officer Halena Gazelka, M.D. “Our goal is to provide one-time support at a level that helps maintain the district’s academic momentum and serves as a bridge to achieving greater financial sustainability.” 

The plan, released last month, was met with pushback from some parents, but also teachers who stood to lose their jobs under the proposal. Pekel said that feedback is also playing into the district’s decision to scale back its plan. 

In the meantime, the district will implement new school start times that the board already approved. That includes earlier start times for elementary school students and later start times for middle and high school students. 

The district has faced a budget shortfall in part because previous administrators hired staff at a faster rate than enrollment. Since Pekel started as superintendent, the district has already cut more than $20 million from its budget.  

People fill a room during a meeting.
People fill the room before a Rochester Public Schools board meeting in Rochester in 2021.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2021

To make the new start times work, Pekel had argued transportation for schools based on a lottery needed to be eliminated. Under the updated proposal, students currently enrolled in those schools will still have access to a modified transportation plan.  

It also revises some additional boundary changes that were necessary to make last month’s proposal work.