Rochester Public Schools looks to close 3 schools

One of the largest school districts in Minnesota is looking to close three schools after voters rejected an operating levy.

In Rochester, Minnesota, massive budget deficits have Superintendent Kent Pekel looking at the closure of three schools, telling FOX 9 they were going to have to get creative after an operating levy was rejected by voters.

Pekel has overseen around $21 million in cuts since taking the job two years ago, as the district has faced massive budget shortfalls. Two weeks ago, he told FOX 9 the district would need to make an additional $10 million in cuts after a technology levy on the ballot failed by around 300 votes.

It's a problem that's not unique to Rochester. Districts across the state continue to struggle financially, despite the Minnesota legislature’s historical investment in education this past legislative session.

"When we don’t have enrollment growth, then even with a 2% increase in funding – and we know inflation can eat some of that up – that general education increase may not have the impact our legislators may want," said Minnesota School Boards Association Executive Director Kirk Schneidawind. 

District budgets have been impacted by flat or declining enrollment since the pandemic. Coupled with inflation, many are struggling with budget deficits.

"Without that student enrollment there aren’t going to be any revenue increases," said Kirk Schneidawind. "As a result, what districts are going to have to do is right-size their budgets."

Rochester is also looking at reducing busing for students open-enrolled in schools outside their attendance zone, as another budget-saving measure.