Hundreds of parents in Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools don't know much about the school board, including who the board members are or what they do, according to the district's 2019 community survey.

Some parents also said they're not sure the board knows what's going on in the district. Board members discussed the results and comments from the survey during Monday's work session and said they want to change the situation, though there was some disagreement about how. 

"While it may not always be true, there is a perception that we aren't always visible at activities or schools," Director Michael Nelson said.

The district's surveys of parents over the last three years show more are happy with the board's work, but more parents also say they can't answer questions about what the board does.

From 2017 to 2019, the number of parents who said they were satisfied with the board grew from 44.5% to about 53%. The number of parents who said they didn't know rose from about 33% to 36%. 

"They want to know that the school board even knows what's going on in the school, that was one of the comments," Chairwoman Lee Shimek added.

Nelson presented four ways to improve resident engagement and understanding of the board. The proposals were created by the board's Public Engagement and Legislative Committee, which includes Nelson, Enrique Velazquez and Vice Chairwoman Stacey Ruelle.

  • Host more public engagement events in school buildings for community members
  • Attend at least one district event per month
  • Communicate more through newspaper articles or newsletters and
  • Move the directors' one-on-one meetings with the superintendent into the schools more often. 

Director Melissa Enger agreed the board could do better with messaging but questioned whether the ideas would make a difference. 

"It sounds like we're looking for photo ops," she said, referring to the idea to have board members publicize their attendance at district events. "We don't need photo ops."

Enger said she was unconvinced that adding event commitments would make the board better at its job. 

"I mean, I'm not going to be 10,000 times more informed just because I went to see the school projects one night," she said. "Our job is board governance and to be able to have the superintendent bring the right people into the room at our study sessions so that we can make the best decisions possible for the district."

Nelson disagreed, saying showing up in more schools and at more events would help board members understand district issues and listen to the community.

"When we get together and talk about decisions that impact our teachers, for example, we should be more boots-on-the-ground and see what's happening with our teachers and their students," Nelson said.

The directors agreed to work on more frequent and widespread publication of their work and responsibilities. 

In other business, Executive Director of Business Services Julie Cink reiterated that enrollment is up from previous years but still somewhere between 80-100 students below the district's budget.

District officials earlier this month said the shortfall could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars less in state aid for the year. 

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is a regional reporter covering Scott County for Southwest News Media.

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