Shakopee Public Schools said in a news release Monday that because of the Shakopee Valley News’ two public data requests to see an unredacted version of the district’s overall organizational health report, the district has paid an additional $18,000 in legal fees.

The district has now spent nearly $75,000 on the report and related legal costs, which began accumulating in 2017 as questions swirled around former Shakopee Superintendent Rod Thompson. A NeuVest report is a third-party report that gauges the overall operational health of a school district. 

In March, Thompson was sentenced in federal court to 24 months prison for soliciting bribes from the company that managed the $102 million Shakopee High School expansion. Weeks later, Thompson was sentenced in state court to 24 months in prison for swindling and embezzlement from the district. The Shakopee Valley News' extensive investigation into Thompson, beginning in March 2017, led police to begin looking into his spending.

The Shakopee Valley News submitted a public data request to view the completed NeuVest report in 2017. The district said it was "bound to comply" with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, which generally classifies data on individuals regarding current and former employees of the school district as private data, according to the release. 

“As the overwhelming majority of the information collected by NeuVest is data regarding current and former employees of the School District, it was classified as private personnel data," the release said. 

The request was fulfilled, but the report was largely redacted, or blacked out.

The NeuVest investigation cost $56,733.72, according to the district, and the process of redacting the information cost an additional $15,179.95. 

A second request

Following Thompson's sentencing in federal and state courts this year, the newspaper submitted a second public data request to the police department to view the NeuVest report. The district made a joint request with the city to obtain an opinion on the data privacy matter from the Minnesota Department of Administration. Emails between the police department and district attorneys revealed Sarah Sonsalla, the police department's attorney, believed the report should have been made public since the investigation was over.

Then, on June 25, the Valley News submitted a public data request to the Shakopee School District, requesting the district to provide attorney costs (to date, and the rate being paid per hour) associated with the district's attempts to block the release of the NeuVest report. 

More than five weeks after the newspaper's data request to view attorney fees, the district released those figures in the form of a public press release posted to its website

The district released an invoice, from Knutson Flynn & Deans, dated July 18, 2019, along with its press release. The invoice includes tasks dating back to May 29, 2019 to as recent as June 28 for things like legal research, drafting letters and reviewing emails. The additional work, conducted by attorneys in response to the newspaper's data request has cost Shakopee Public Schools an additional $2,905, the district's statement said. 

The report is now in the hands of the Department of Administration, which will make the final say on whether the unredacted report should be released. 

“I am looking forward to our district having closure once and for all as it pertains to this matter,” Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond said in the release. 

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.


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