On May 24, residents in the Prior Lake-Savage district will vote on a $150 million referendum that would build a new elementary school, add on to every school building and fund technology improvements.
Several Prior Lake-Savage parents affiliated with an anti-referendum group believe school officials have crossed a line, promoting a pro-referendum, “vote yes” message to students during the school day.
In April, high school seniors were called into a seniors-only meeting about prom and graduation. At the meeting, Superintendent Teri Staloch showed students a district-produced, four-minute referendum video, Staloch said, the same one on the district website.
Staloch didn’t give the full referendum presentation along with the video. She showed it because some seniors are 18 and she wanted to encourage them to vote, she said.
“I’ve taken very seriously my job of sharing factual information” about the referendum, Staloch said. “I felt I was also obligated to share information with our seniors.”
Some parents said they believe Staloch’s actions were inappropriate because she was actively promoting the referendum and an affirmative vote, something school officials shouldn't do according to state law.
“I’m not at all comfortable with using our young students, our youth … as little propaganda robots to get their message out,” said Erin Haust, a parent who is part of the “vote no” group.
The district's marketing materials are clearly geared toward voting yes, Haust said.
But according to a state attorney general opinion issued in 1966, school officials can give presentations to voters as long as they are sharing informational material and don’t take a stance on how residents should vote.
“The basic thing is this — it’s fine to have an informational campaign. Every district does it,” said Greg Abbott, spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association. “Unless it says ‘vote yes,’ it’s not breaking any law or rule whatsoever.”
Haust said the superintendent’s actions upset her, even if rules weren't technically broken.
“Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s ethical,” Haust said.