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School board ‘Vote Yes’ group and Nexus hold private meeting

Vote Yes for Kids group announces referendum campaign after questions arise about June meeting
By Hannah Jones hjones@swpub.com

A group campaigning for the victory of the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District’s upcoming referendum has assembled and met with officials from the district and its facilities consultant, Nexus Solutions.

The group, Vote Yes for Kids, is a community group organized by Jonathan Drewes of Savage. Drewes is also a member of the district’s Facilities Task Force, a group of about 50 district-selected members that assessed space needs and provided input on how to address the needs.

“The bottom line is we’ve had explosive growth in Prior Lake and Savage and our current facilities cannot handle the influx of students that we will see in the next 10 years,” Drewes said in a news release. “Prior Lake-Savage schools are known for excellence and unless we want our students to resemble sardines in a can, we need to act now.”

The Vote Yes for Kids group convened from 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 14 at the Burnhaven Library in Burnsville with “12 or 15” people in attendance, according to Drewes. Burnhaven Library staff confirmed the group reserved space that night.

At first, Drewes was reluctant to say where the newly formed group met. He answered questions about where the meeting took place first with “at a library” and “we got together at a library” before finally naming the Burnhaven Library as the specific location.

“We’re getting the band back together,” Drewes said of the group. Drewes was also involved in the Say Yes campaign for the failed referendum last May, as were other Vote Yes for Kids members.

According to Drewes, three school board members — Stacey Ruelle, Lee Shimek and Richard Wolf — attended, as well as Superintendent Teri Staloch. Also in attendance: representatives Michael David and Brent Jones from Nexus. Drewes said they were on hand to “share the current state of the plan.” Shimek said she was invited to attend the meeting by the committee, but mostly observed and was available to answer questions.

Ruelle, Wolf and David did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Drewes at first replied “no comment” when asked if Nexus representatives were there, but eventually volunteered the information in a later conversation. The questions, he said, “caught him a little by surprise.”

“I guess you get to decide if it’s newsworthy,” he said.

Other members present that night were also a bit opaque when asked about the meeting. Semira Mundt, a Vote Yes for Kids member and a member of the district’s Facilities Task Force, originally answered “I don’t know what you’re talking about” when asked about the June 14 meeting.

When Drewes confirmed that she was, in fact, there, she sent a follow-up email statement saying she was at the meeting, she was grateful for “an opportunity to learn more about the proposals currently under consideration” and said the following of her previous statement, where she denied knowing about the meeting:

“When you called me, I wasn’t sure if I was going to create any problems by acknowledging the meeting, so I denied it,” Mundt wrote in an email to a Prior Lake American reporter. “That was a mistake on my part. The meeting happened. It was at Burnhaven Library and I was in attendance.”

A Minnesota Attorney General Opinion states school boards can spend “an appropriate” amount of funds on informing the public about the referendum, but another opinion states they have to be impartial while they do this, and can’t promote an affirmative vote.

Questions have been raised by community members about whether the Vote Yes group or members of the Facilities Task Force had, in fact, met at the District Services Center on June 14. Director of Communications Kristi Mussman said no such meeting happened on district property.

“The Facilities Task Force has completed its work and no additional meetings were scheduled after their presentation to the board last month,” she said. “I wasn’t at (the June 14) meeting, but I believe it was a group of Vote Yes people, and the meeting was not held at a district facility.”

Staloch had “no idea” if members of the Facilities Task Force had also met that night, but she did confirm that she was at the Vote Yes meeting. When asked if she knew of a reason why people at the meeting were giving vague or untrue answers to questions about the meeting, she shook her head and shrugged.

“I attended because the group asked me to,” she said. “Any community group meeting that would ask me questions about the referendum, I’m happy to attend.”

Staloch said she wasn’t aware if there was yet an organized Vote No group, but said if one invited her, she would “consider that as well.”

Please read more at the Prior Lake American: http://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/education/vote-yes-for-kids-group-announces-referendum-campaign-after-questions/article_1acf006c-9693-5482-8d16-b42b5a6fd69a.html