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Pandemic relief funds helping Rochester Public Schools rebound

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ROCHESTER, Minn. - Pandemic relief funds are helping Rochester Public Schools rebound and keep students and staff safe amid the pandemic.

RPS received an allocation of $38.5 million in pandemic relief funds. Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel tells KIMT this is under 10 percent of its annual total budget.

Of the $38.5 million received, RPS has spent just under 11 million dollars toward physical improvements.

Installing new ventilation systems, plexiglass for social distancing, and investing in additional staff all in an effort to help mitigate the virus.

Pekel says the remaining 24 million dollars will be distributed diligently.

“We have to be very careful in allocating these dollars for things that are going to really make a difference for kids which includes investments that help staff, but don't bring us to a cliff in 2024 that we then are going to find ourselves having to make major cuts to recover from.”

Firstly, to continue improvements to physical infrastructure helping fight the spread of COVID.

There will also be additional support for students to make up for lost academic time during distance learning.

He explains, “As great a job as our teachers did, in learning for 18 months via technology, we know in our analysis of our data that we have some ground to make up.”

Finally, there will be additional support for staff to help with shortages and mental wellbeing.

The remaining funds need to be spent to help recover from the pandemic by the end of 2024.

“It's the old saying, is there light at the end of the tunnel, and is it a train? I think there's good reason to believe it's not a train, we can see where we need to go, but there's some really critical stuff that we need to do - both within our schools and within the community - over the next few months to get there,” Pekel says.

With the arrival of vaccines for younger-aged kids, Pekel says the focus in the next months is encouraging families to get their kids vaccinated.

In two weeks the Rochester School Board is set to consider approval of a $700,000 purchase to install HEPA filters in classrooms.

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