≡ Menu

Misinformation and distractions won’t help the referendum pass

“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.”

That statement is a direct quote from an official Email Blast that went out August 9 from School District 719. It was addressed to “key communicators” in response to an August 5 letter to the editor that appeared on the opinion pages of the American.  I don’t know who the “communicators” are, but I’d guess it’s a distribution list the District hasn’t make public. A friend who’s been following the issues forwarded it to me. The full text is available on the Citizens for Accountable Government (CAG) website. The District’s statement and Email blast appeared on District letterhead, presumably with the knowledge and consent of the superintendent and school board chair.  The letter that drew the District’s ire was critical of the school boards ongoing relationship with consultant Nexus and the school administrations rejection of a low bid on a recent construction project. The rejection and the taking of the higher bid put the project over budget.

School District 719 is a public body. Its “stakeholders” are the residents and taxpayers of Prior Lake and Savage. Its policy board and administrative staff are accountable to them. The dictionary defines accountable as, “required or expected to justify actions or decisions.” Does the District understand the meaning of the word? The Email blast makes me wonder if it does.

A common complaint and refrain from District leadership, and its most ardent supporters, is that there’s a great deal of misinformation out there. The claim is tediously repeated over and over again. A letter to the editor in last weeks American from School Board Chair Wolf attacked the newspaper for “printing false and misleading information” so-called “fake news”—a charge that’s far too common, today, whenever public officials are challenged in the press. What’s ironic is that Chair Wolf wrote a letter to the editor some weeks ago claiming that CAG had hired an “anti-education” consultant to help it discredit the referendum. Yet, it turned out the claim by Wolf was completely false, presumably concocted by him or someone else in District leadership to discredit CAG. While Wolf’s letter made it to the American online edition, the editorial staff pulled it from the paper edition before it went to print.

The District needn’t worry about “false and misleading information.” The reporters and the editorial staff know how to do their job. As an unpaid contributor my column gets the same scrutiny and attention. What seems to annoy District leadership is that it doesn’t get to bully the paper into printing what it wants.

Much is at stake in the upcoming referendum. The District is growing and needs additional classroom space and operating funds for its academic programs. That’s not in dispute. But it’s seriously jeopardizing the referendum by refusing to rethink and reconsider it’s business relationship with its consultant, Nexus. That relationship and the process the District followed in selecting Nexus is damaging the District’s credibility.

Here are some unanswered questions that have been asked before: Why didn’t the District develop a full formal request for proposal and follow an open process in selecting a consultant? Why didn’t it study and compare the alternative of using an in house project management group to manage the construction projects? How much money has Nexus received thus far for its services? How much money will Nexus receive over the life of the contract for the referendum projects? Will Nexus follow a low bid procedure in selecting contractors? What role will the District have in the decision-making and selection of contractors and vendors? Will that information be public and will the District have ownership of the documents and the work product? Bottom line, where does the money go? Who benefits, the teachers, the kids and the schools or Nexus?

Voters need to ask these questions and exercise due diligence, and the District should respond with clear unequivocal answers. Defensiveness, equivocation and complaints about misinformation and distractions won’t help the referendum pass, and without straight answers it shouldn’t

Please read more from The Prior Lake American:
John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com. (Editor’s note: Diers is a community columnist and not employed by, or paid by, the newspaper.)