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NEWS RELEASE

 

Red Rock Central Public School District #2884

 

Contact: Todd Lee, Superintendent

toddlee@rrcfalcons.org

507-752-7361

 

October 12, 2020

 

Red Rock School officials cry foul against negative MDE review

 

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has notified Red Rock Central School District that its proposed new school building has been given an unfavorable review. 

 

“The MDE review and comment contains inaccuracies, misinterprets data, and doesn’t follow its own criteria,” said Bill Rogotzke, chair of the Red Rock Central School Board. “I can’t believe that MDE could get this so wrong. The entire evaluation process seems flawed – no one from MDE even visited our school.”

 

As a result of the unfavorable review, the state will require 60 percent of voters to approve the Nov. 3 bond referendum, instead of the standard 50% approval.

 

MDE didn’t follow its own review criteria

Two major issues cited by MDE were not even in their building evaluation criteria:  the district’s planned reduction of its voter approved operating levy and student access to programming that prepares students for college or career and technical schools and jobs. 

 

Healthy fund balance

The district has steadily built fund balance over the past five years, and is on track to continue. The district’s financial advisor recommended the proposed levy amount on the Nov. 3 ballot because it would maintain existing programming and retain current fund balance. 

 

“This might sound hard to believe,” said Superintendent Todd Lee, “but, we don’t need as much money as we are currently taking in from our local property taxpayers. What shouldn’t be hard to believe is that we have an amazing, nationally recognized, award-winning curriculum.”

 

Numerous national awards for quality programming

For 13 straight years, Red Rock Central has been recognized as one of “America’s Best High Schools” by US News and World Report, and in 2018 was the only Minnesota high school to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. These awards are based on student access to quality programming.

 

“Our building project is being judged on our operations – which are nationally recognized as “Blue Ribbon” quality – but are not part of MDE criteria for facility review and comment, and this should not be allowed,” added Rogotzke. 

 

MDE review includes inaccuracies and misinterpretations

Additional issues cited by MDE included:

  • Cost of upgrade is less than 50% of the cost of new construction
  • Existing building “still has years of useful life remaining”
  • Enrollment is trending down

 

“There’s no way to politely put this, but we disagree with these points because the review and comment included inaccuracies and misinterpretations of the data we provided,” said Lee. “Gov. Walz has stated that he supports the consolidation of rural school districts. We think that may have influenced this review and comment.”

 

Renovation was an option eliminated by the community-led task force

After a three-year process to evaluate its facility and determine solutions, the school district calculated the cost to upgrade the existing facility at 75% of the cost of a new building, but the district would still be left with a structure with an average age of more than 75 years (the statewide building age average is 41 years). A new building could last decades, be configured to meet the educational needs of today’s students, not those from 100 years ago, and would be more efficient to maintain and operate. MDE lists a deferred maintenance cost that does not address all deferred maintenance, and also does not meet educational needs such as meeting ADA requirements, does not eliminate the need for portable classrooms currently used for special education classes, and does not make the second floor media center accessible to all students because there is no elevator.

 

Existing building is not ADA compliant or functional for 21st Century learning

“It’s true that the existing building will remain standing on its own for years,” said Rogotzke. “But it is not functional for all students and for all programming needs. And it isn’t what the community wants. Renovation or renovation with an addition were options eliminated by the community-led task force.”

 

Enrollment is increasing

Enrollment at Red Rock Central has increased 4% over the last five years. A demographer’s in-depth study of the district indicates a 5-10% enrollment increase over the next ten years, not a 25% decrease as indicated by MDE, which did not undertake a study.

 

Our response was provided on August 8

The process of review and comment required the district to provide information found in a checklist. That information was provided to MDE on Aug. 8, the review and comment was sent by MDE on Oct. 2, a follow-up conference call allowing for district response was held Oct. 8, and MDE provided a letter updating, and reiterating its unfavorable review on Oct. 11. The district is required to publish the review and comment prior to election day, and the school board must, by resolution, reconsider the proposed construction project. The school board will meet on October 19 to discuss the issue.

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