Our goal remains to cover all sides of upcoming bond referendum

In the early 2000s as a reporter for the Mankato (Minn.) Free Press,  my “beat” was education.That meant I covered everything from school board meetings to classroom happenings to referendums. While Mankato Area Public Schools, which had about 7,000 students, was my priority, our coverage area included about 25 public school districts and several private schools.Back then, my favorite stories were the ones that took place in the classroom, followed by the School Board meetings.The referendums? To say they were a distant third would be an understatement.Fast forward 15 or so years to today, and I can tell you nothing has changed.I still would rather dive into a classroom story than go to a School Board meeting. And referendums remain stuck in last place.Not that they’re not important, but at the same time, they are a monumental challenge to cover. In large part, it’s because emotions seem to run so much higher when it comes to a referendums.Those in favor of them are passionate. Those against them are just as passionate.And hopefully, we, as in the newspaper are stuck in the middle.When I covered K-12 education in southern Minnesota during the early part of this century, one of my school districts was Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, a consolidated district that included students from four towns — Lake Crystal, Vernon Center, Rapidan and Garden City.Wellcome Memorial covered the latter three towns and was the smaller of the two districts that consolidated in the early 1990s.Residents from the old Wellcome Memorial district constantly felt that they were being “bullied” by those from the former Lake Crystal district and were dreadfully afraid that they were going to lose the two remaining school buildings in their old district.The reality is that Lake Crystal was shipping hundreds of students to schools in Wellcome Memorial, where only dozens of students remained.By the early 2000s, LCWM officials were dealing with aging buildings and huge transportation costs. Their solution was to house more students in a new building in Lake Crystal, where the vast majority of students resided.Thus began, one of the longest odysseys of my career.LCWM came up with six bond referendums; voters rejected all six of them.I felt like I should have rented an apartment in Lake Crystal because I spent so much time in the small city located 13 miles west of Mankato.And it was during that time I developed a thick skin.Pro-referendum voters felt the Free Press was anti-referendum. Anti-referendum voters felt the Free Press was pro-referendum.I took a call once at 2 in the morning from an irate resident, and when I finally got him off the phone, I had to deal with a very irate wife.“OK, we’re unlisting our phone tomorrow,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”I’ve always been too much of a “people pleaser” so for a while I took each call personally, but one of my good friends and colleagues finally got me over the hump or maybe even off the cliff.“Look, it’s better to have all the people mad at you in these cases than having half of them happy with you,” he said. “That means you’re doing your job.”Today, of course, we’re dealing with another bond referendum here in New Hampton.I will be brutally honest here. This one is much tougher to cover than the ones in LCWM so many years ago because back then, I lived in Mankato.I had, as they say, no skin in the game.Today, I live here, and personally, I think it’s time that we invest in new facilities for our students.But I still have a job to do, and that means we will cover both sides of this issue.I get that some people are concerned about the cost and I get that some people believe the proposed new building is too big.I may not agree with them, but when I walk through the door of the Tribune each morning, my job — just like Brittany Stange’s and Dorothy Huber’s — is to be as impartial and unbiased as we possibly can.We will do our best to cover the Feb. 7 referendum as best as we possibly can.If you think we missed the boat, let us know.I have only two requests.First, do it in a respectful way. We are doing our best, we will continue to strive for our best and yet we will certainly listen to your concerns.Second, don’t call at 2 a.m.•••••As a side note, I have to share this little nugget.In early 2004, I moved to Forest City, and a couple of months later, LCWM voters finally approved a referendum.A few months later, I was visiting my parents in Mankato and ran into LCWM Superintendent Les Norman at the mall.I had interviewed Les scores of times, and I had sat through what seemed like an infinite number of meetings with him. I didn’t always agree with him, but we had a great working relationship that included giving each other grief from time to time.“You know, some people are telling me the seventh time was the charm,” he said with a mischievous smile, “but I’m thinking all we had to do to get it passed was get you out of Dodge.” 

New Hampton Tribune

10 North Chestnut Ave
New Hampton, IA 50659
Phone: (641) 394-2111
Email: tribune@nhtrib.com

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