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Rochester, Mn (KROC-AM News) - The Rochester School District and other school districts across Minnesota are scrambling to adjust to a significant change regarding public school hourly employees.

The pre-K-12 Education Funding Bill approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Tim Walz includes a provision that extends unemployment benefits to those workers when schools are not in session for the summer break. In the past, Rochester Public Schools gave those employees the option of having their paychecks reduced during the months they were working and having that money used to provide them with income during the summer break.

Unemployment insurance form on a table.
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Under the new law, the Education Support Professionals (previously known as paraprofessionals), school food service personnel, and other hourly workers, will now be eligible to receive unemployment benefits to give them some income while the schools are closed for the summer. Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel estimated the unemployment benefits extension would have "'put a $5 million dollar hole in the budget," but he says the legislation was amended at nearly the last minute to include state funding to cover the additional expenses that would have been incurred by the school districts.

Kent Pekel. Rochester Public Schools/YouTube
Kent Pekel. Rochester Public Schools/YouTube
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While he is thankful for the state funding, Pekel says the extension of the unemployment benefits, which goes into effect this year, has created significant logistical challenges that need to be met in a very short timeframe. A key issue is a provision of the law that makes the hourly workers eligible to receive unemployment benefits unless they are offered a "comparable position" during the summer break.

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Pekel says that has left the school district with very little time to determine how many of the affected employees can be offered jobs during the summer school session and how many are willing to take those positions. He notes that, under the new law, any worker offered a "comparable position" and declines it would likely not be eligible for unemployment payments.

Further complicating the issue, Pekel says the school district needs to determine if the summer school positions meet the state's definition of a "comparable position" for the Education Support Professionals and other hourly employees. That is a decision that will be made by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

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