By Wes Mader
School District 719 is an affluent district of over 30,000 registered voters, residents who place high priority on the education of children. Why then did only 3,496 of those registered voters cast votes in support of the Tech Levy Referendum that was recommended by the District Superintendent, and unanimously approved by the School Board? An obvious conclusion might be that there is a disconnect between elected Board members and their constituents.
The School District’s website proudly displays a claim that 92% of parents (of 8,850 enrolled students) rate our staff as excellent or good. While I have no insight into how the School District office arrived at the 92% figure, I have no doubt there is a high level of respect for the teachers in our District. Yet, only 3,496 of over 30,000 registered voters went to the polls to support the referendum, that was proposed and promoted by School District leadership. Doesn’t this suggest a serious lack of public confidence in fiscal management and oversight in the District?
Of various fiscal issues that might be cited, the most conspicuously glaring is the disclosure that Nexus Solutions (Nexus), the District’s consultant on facility projects, has been paid about $25 million since initially hired. While numerous questions have been raised regarding the District’s relationship with Nexus, including the circumstances under which Nexus was hired, there have been no forthright or factually meaningful answers.
Prior to the 2017 referendum at which time Nexus had already collected about $10 million from the District, CAG (Citizens for Accountable Government) raised concerns about Nexus involvement. CAG’s request to meet with the Board to discuss the concerns was simply denied. As CAG made its concerns public, District leadership responded in a somewhat predictable manner, not by addressing the questions being raised, but instead by attacking the credibility of CAG. The Chair of the School District, in a letter to the editor of the Prior Lake American, falsely claimed that CAG had hired a nationally known anti-education consultant.
Prior to the 2017 referendum vote, CAG distributed a brochure to School District residents citing specifics about the School District/Nexus financial relationships. The brochure stated that “If the referendum passes, Nexus receives an estimated $13 million revenue, in addition to approximately $10 million they received since hired”. The brochure highlighted specifics about fees previously authorized for Nexus, like $426,511 that the District’s Finance Director authorized for consulting services related to AstroTurf. CAG’s concerns were summarily ignored and dismissed by School officials.
I encourage residents in our School District to read the District’s press release titled Voters Reject PLSAS Technology Levy Request, https://www.priorlake-savage.k12.mn.us/uploaded/Communications/FAILS_Press_Release.pdf In the press release, Superintendent Staloch is quoted as stating “We now need to learn why our community voted no” on the Tech Levy referendum. I hope Ms. Staloch will read the commentary above and consider that the words may have some merit.