As a matter of course and the political climate we have been in for the past several years, I have distanced myself out of social media and have tried in earnest to be as conscious and deliberate as I can be about my consumption of information on various platforms. It is with this mindset that I have been dismayed by the latest round of articles & opinion pieces I have read regarding our school district, and the lack of effort or regard for printing factually accurate information.
Specific articles of concern:
On October 1, 2022, SMDP published opinion letter “No on SMC” (see: https://smdp.com/2022/10/01/no-on-smc/). The piece states, “As an example, the owner of a home in Santa Monica or Malibu assessed at a value of $1 million will pay $900 a year for the bond,” but this is in direct contradiction to an actual article written by SMDP (see “SMC Announces Bond Measure for November Ballot, https://smdp.com/2022/06/09/smc-announces-bond-measure-for-november-ballot/) which states, “If you own your home and your property is assessed at $1 million, your annual fee would be $250.” The latter figure is accurate, the one written in the opinion piece is not.
On October 8, 2022, LA Times published “Water damage, mold closed a Santa Monica elementary school. Parents say it follows years of neglect,” citing a school board candidate that stated John Muir Elementary was our school district’s sole Title I school, only to correct this statement two days later (see: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-08/santa-monica-john-muir-elementary-school-water-damage-mold). The damage having already been done with two days lapsed before the error was corrected, Superintendent Drati had to send out a district-wide email correcting the misinformation, stating “SMMUSD had five Title I schools as of the 2019-20 school year: Muir, Rogers, McKinley, Edison and JAMS. All schools, except McKinley, were over the 40% qualification for Title I in that school year. (Muir 49%, Rogers 40%, Edison 40%, JAMS 42% and McKinley 35% per California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS).”
On October 14, 2022, SMDP published another opinion piece, “Politics and PTAs” which stated, “The SMMPTA is an independent lobbying organization that is using the reputation of our local PTAs to push a ballot measure….” (see: https://smdp.com/2022/10/14/politics-and-ptas/). The SMMPTA is a 501(c)(3) organization. SMMPTA governs over our local school PTAs, and is governed by 33rd District PTA, which is governed by the California PTA or “CAPTA.” As 501(c)(3) non-profits, they are not and cannot be classified as “independent lobbying organizations,” the characterization is grossly misleading, and our PTAs’ right to active participation in the democratic process in promoting education and well-being for students is beyond dispute (SMMPTA has now published their own letter in response that provides a more thorough contextual correction dated October 26, 2022, Letter to the Editor, “PTA Response,” https://smdp.com/2022/10/26/letter-to-the-editor-44/).
Note, I am not suggesting that all of the above individuals should not be allowed to raise their opinion about the bond measure, school facilities management, etc.; this is just a request that we are providing accurate facts in our opinions, and on this count I am dismayed to see that neither the letter writers, local candidates nor the newspaper editors have taken appropriate steps to ensure that basic facts beyond dispute are accurately portrayed.
If it is not the newspaper’s practice to fact check opinion pieces, as a reader the following two changes would be beneficial: the byline of these opinion pieces should not, at the very top, state “by Staff Report” and rather indicate right at the top of the piece who the letter was written by, and there should be a disclaiming note at the top that the letters were not fact-checked.
I am happy to see a vigorous debate over issues that matter in our local community, but when an opinion or article is published, should we not expect that our newspapers are on a higher footing than social media posts? I invite everyone in our community to put their best foot forward when raising issues that are concerning to them and engage in debate free from misinformation: let’s be passionate, not inaccurate. Thank you.
Mila Vecore, Santa Monica