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Commentary: Newspaper will remain an independent organization

By Rachel Minske rminske@swpub.com Aug 12, 2017

**Includes Email from the school district to “key communicators”

In an email sent to “key communicators” by the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District earlier this week, the Prior Lake American was accused of publishing information “without proper verification” from the school district.

The email critiqued various parts of a letter to the editor written by Prior Lake resident and former mayor Wes Mader, published in both the Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer newspapers Aug. 5.

I want to use this space to offer some explanation as to how the editorial process at our newspaper works.

Our newsroom receives story ideas countless times every day. They arrive via phone calls, emails, online submission forms through our website and word of mouth. We always welcome your news tips and we do our best to follow up on as many as possible in order to bring you stories that are valuable and important to you, dear readers. After all, it is our duty to inform, give a voice to the voiceless and hold those handling your tax dollars accountable.

We are not, however, a mouthpiece for any entity. We must operate as an independent organization — to operate in any other way would be a disservice to you, our valued reader. In order to be a trusted news source, we must have an independent voice that informs and engages the entire community.

Our hard-working reporters spend their weeks tracking down documentation, interviewing sources and piecing together information. These stories appear throughout the newspaper.

Our opinion pages are handled differently. These pages are largely comprised of content submitted by readers, community members and elected officials. We accept letters to the editor (the deadline is noon on Wednesdays if you’re thinking of writing one), and often feature the work of guest commentators and columnists. Unlike our news pages, these are for opinions — your viewpoint, your thoughts and your take on an issue happening in your community. It is your First Amendment right to voice your opinion and say your piece.

That being said, our newspaper does go to great lengths to ensure complete and utter accuracy on our opinion pages. Your letters to the editor and columns are thoroughly fact checked by our staff. We may ask for documentation that supports your claims and on several occasions we’ve communicated back and forth several times with those who have submitted content to ensure the claims made are factual.

In the school district’s email to key communicators, it wrote the following (the district’s claims are in bold and reasons why the newspaper didn’t run a correction for Mr. Mader’s letter to the editor, as was requested by Superintendent Dr. Teri Staloch, follows in plain text):

Mr. Mader inaccurately claimed that the district said that the failure of the 2016 referendum was due to “misinformation.”
The district published results from a community survey after the failed referendum in May 2016 that outlined the No. 1 reason why voters opposed the referendum was due to not wanting a tax increase. However, this is Mr. Mader’s opinion and perspective and therefore, it’s justified that it ran on the opinion page, where opinions are welcomed.

Mr. Mader inaccurately claimed that the “school board majority does not want to discuss Nexus openly.”
The school board voted 5-2 July 10 against a motion to delay sending review and comment documentation to the state in order to openly discuss getting out of the Nexus contract. While the school board has openly discussed Nexus in a number of its meetings, this is an example of when it voted not to.

Mr. Mader incorrectly claimed that the district rejected a low bid due to a “technicality.”
According to the email from the district, the bid in question was missing an affidavit form and was therefore ineligible due to state statute. We did not issue a correction for this claim as by definition, the missing form constituted a technicality.

The district provided its own factual reasoning behind why it feels Mr. Mader’s claims were inaccurate in the email blast this week. You can read them for yourself on this webpage.

We strive to be a valuable resource to you and to help you make informed decisions in your daily life.

In closing, I’ll restate what the school district emailed out on Wednesday afternoon: “Opinion pages are a place for opinions, news pages are for factual and impartial reporting.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I always welcome your feedback. Please get in touch if you ever have a question, comment or concern.

Rachel Minske is the editor of the Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer newspapers. She can be reached at rminske@swpub.com or at 952-345-6376.


**Email from the school district

The school district sent the following email to “key communicators” Wednesday afternoon:

Hello Key Communicators,

Opinion pages are a place for opinions, news pages are for factual and impartial reporting. Unfortunately, the Prior Lake American and Savage Pacer are increasingly ignoring both those norms.

A recent letter to the editor by Wes Mader contained multiple inaccuracies that were published without proper verification with Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, some of which the paper knew to be false but published anyway. Here are the facts, as opposed to what was written.

Mr. Mader inaccurately claimed that the district said that the failure of the 2016 referendum was due to “misinformation.” FACT: The district conducted a post-referendum, scientific survey which was shared publicly at the Sept. 26, 2016 School Board Study Session. The number one reason given for voting no in May 2016: the vote would have increased property taxes too much. The number one reason people did not vote was they were too busy.
Mr. Mader inaccurately claimed that the “School Board majority does not want to discuss Nexus openly.” FACT: The School Board has openly discussed Nexus during its meetings on several occasions including at a public forum:
November 19, 2012, Community Forum (long-term facilities maintenance plan (LTFM) as presented by Nexus)
December 10, 2012 – Board discussion and approval of Nexus contract for implementation of LTFM plan and preparation for a performance contract
October 12, 2015, Board discussion and approval of Nexus contract extension for LTFM agreement
July 11, 2016 – Board review of Nexus contract. Board provides direction on moving forward with a partnership with Nexus
March 27, 2017 – Board discusses AIA (Architectural Institute of America) Agreement with Nexus for LTFM Projects during its Study Session
April 10, 2017 – After Board discussion, Board approved AIA Agreement with Nexus for LTFM Projects
Mr. Mader incorrectly claimed that the district rejected a low bid due to a “technicality.” FACT: The bid was ineligible according to state statute. The district checked with its attorney and the attorney concurred with rejecting the bid because the vendor failed to verify compliance with the minimum criteria outlined in statute. This was communicated to reporter Hannah Jones in person and in numerous emails, one of which included direct statements from the district’s attorney explaining why the bid could not be accepted. This was also communicated to editors Rachel Minske and Deena Winter in person on July 25. The law is the law; we will not put our district – and by extension, our property taxpayers – at legal risk.

If these newspapers continue to print false and misleading information from a small but vocal minority without fact-checking, residents will rightly question its accuracy, credibility and impartiality. In a growing community like ours, we need and deserve open, honest reporting that builds a sense of community rather than driving a wedge between residents based on false statements.

FACT: We have a lot of kids coming, more homes continue to be built, we are a popular district and our job is to provide them with space, staff and opportunities to succeed. To continue to give voice to residents who want to distract from the facts by spreading inaccuracies does a disservice to our community and our families.

For those interested in the facts, visit the school district website. All board materials are there for public view, and all referendum facts will be shared once the board makes an official referendum decision.