Guest column: Schools should have the option of posting public notices on their websites

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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Editor’s note: After deliberation in both the House and Senate, a conference committee on Monday adopted compromise language supported by the Minnesota Newspaper Association that sets limited parameters for alternate publication of school district public notices. The language specifically allows the affected school districts in Shakopee, Jordan, Prior Lake-Savage and Carver County to publish notices on their websites through Aug. 1, 2026. The bill will next go to the full committee before approval by the House and Senate.

Guest column by Kirk Schneidawind

Public schools have a long tradition of informing the public about school board actions and education issues. For years, schools partnered with newspapers to publish legal notices; but in the past decade, local community newspapers have closed, readership of newspapers has declined, and many of the newspapers left do not even have a presence at the school board meetings.

Kirk Schneidawind

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Public notices provide a means for the public to stay informed about the school board’s actions. However, without a local newspaper within their community or county, schools have been compelled to select and pay for newspaper legal space that most people in their school district do not read.

That point was brought home in the latest closures when a southwest metro newspaper chain folded community newspapers serving Shakopee, Jordan, Prior Lake, Hutchinson, and Litchfield. Those school districts must now find another newspaper in the county or an adjoining county. The Jordan School District may end up having to publish their proceedings in the Henderson Independent, which does not even cover the school district and has under a couple dozen readers in the Jordan area.

Even communities that have some sort of newspaper are questioning whether newspapers are still the best vehicle to post legal notices. St. Anthony-New Brighton conducted a survey of their constituents to learn their principal source of information of their school district. Newspapers garnered a mere 4%. In contrast, 42% of the respondents shared that the school district newsletter and website were their main sources for school district information. Many other newspapers have either ceased print and delivery altogether or transitioned to a weekly or biweekly schedule, primarily publishing content online and providing notifications on their websites.

It is apparent that posting school notices in a newspaper is no different than if the school district posted those same notices on its own website. It makes sense for the public who want to know about school district business to look to the school district website — especially when there is no newspaper covering their school district.

We are sad to say that the era of newspapers is declining. Readership is falling and small papers in greater Minnesota are closing, leaving a void in these communities. The answer to keep the public informed is really to give school districts a choice: to either post their legal notices on their own website or continue to use a legal newspaper. Current legislation in the Minnesota Senate would give school districts this choice.

Many districts with a local newspaper that covers local school issues have stated they will maintain their notice publication with the newspaper. However, posting minutes in a newspaper 40 miles away from the school district is simply ineffective and inefficient. Parents and community members rely on school district websites for accessing lunch menus, event calendars, testing schedules, and the board meeting minutes already posted there, not to mention other school district communication methods used by our school districts.

One solution to improved transparency is to give school districts the choice that will best serve their families and community. This choice will provide stability for our school districts and their communities in what has become an unstable environment over the last decade. Our goal is simply to give school boards a choice to determine the most effective, efficient, and transparent method of delivering school board and school district news to the communities they serve in these ever-changing times.

Kirk Schneidawind is the executive director of the Minnesota School Board Association.