Rochester teachers demand 15% salary increase (and get it!)

The Rochester School District is living out the Circle of Education Funding right before our very eyes as the school board just offered their union teachers a contract they absolutely can’t afford. You can read more on the Circle of Education Funding here, but in a nutshell: the Minnesota legislature appropriates more money for K-12 schools, the teachers’ union soaks it all up in contract talks, the school board cuts the budget or raises taxes to pay for it, then lobbies the legislature for more money (and it starts all over).

Rochester recently announced it reached a tentative contract agreement with their teachers’ union that will immediately put the district budget into a $2.5 million financial hole. The deficit will grow much larger after the district uses up a one-time gift of $10 million from the Mayo Clinic it received to make up for last year’s failed levy referendum.

The proposed contract calls for a whopping 15.44% increase over the next two years. You read that right. The Rochester School Board is about to give their union teachers a 15.44% raise even though both sides know it will put their operating budget completely out of whack. Taxpayers in Rochester are witnessing step two of the Circle of Education Funding, where the teachers’ union demands every last dime of available money from the school board. In this case, the contract will go way beyond the “last dime” and put the district into debt before the ink even dries on the contract.

Superintendent Ken Pekel bragged to the Rochester Post Bulletin that this would be the largest increase in the state and the largest for teachers in Rochester in over 30 years. In the very next breath, he admitted the increase is not sustainable and “raises the stakes for passing a referendum.”

After district voters told him “no” in 2023, Superintendent Pekel just negotiated a teacher’s contract that relies on an even larger referendum passing in 2024. This kind of thinking will put him in line for the National Superintendent of the Year award.

If the referendum fails, the district will move to step three of the Circle of Education Funding, where the school board meets to debate painful and drastic cuts to popular and important programs and schools.

Hopefully someone in the room that day will remind everyone why the cuts are necessary: because the teachers’ union demanded an unrealistic and unsustainable salary increase. In the case of Rochester, the union also demanded (and received) a commitment to keep class sizes down. Never mind that the research is mixed at best on whether small class sizes improve achievement for students. This is not about students. It’s about adult members of a union, and with smaller the classes, you’ll need more union members.

This post is part of American Experiment’s broader campaign to expose the teachers’ union as an organization more concerned about adults than children. While many teachers in Minnesota work hard and care about the children they teach, their union Education Minnesota has opposed every important education reform in the history of the state. Go to to learn more.