This election will be a defining moment for Stillwater Area Public Schools. With five board seats at stake the community will determine the direction of the district. In casting our votes we will want to consider some unanticipated consequences of recent board decisions.
In March the board voted to investigate the Hudson Road bus terminal purchase. And they placed Kristen Hoheisel, director of finance and operations, on administrative leave. Hoheisel then filed a lawsuit, naming the board at large, and Sarah Stivland individually, as defendants. Her suit alleges violation of Minnesota open meeting law, the whistleblower statute and the data practices act.
In July, upon the resignation of two directors, the board seated Tim Brewington and Bill Gilles as replacements. They, along with Stivland and Mike Ptacek, are vying to maintain the board majority in this election cycle.
This is a precarious situation. If Hoheisel’s suit advances to trial, it will most likely create a conflict of interest; perhaps forcing board resignations. District leadership, which already suffered inordinate turnover in 2020, will again be destabilized. Given the need to pass a levy in 2021, this would prove disastrous.
Voters should be concerned if Hoheisel is awarded a settlement exceeding the district’s liability coverage. How will the board respond to this?
How many lawsuits can the district undergo before our liability insurance premiums increase? Is our bond rating compromised?
Voters have the opportunity to choose the direction they want the district to go: continue in reverse with the current majority’s revenge agenda; or bring in a new board with all eyes forward. Alison Sherman, Bev Petrie, Katie Hockert, Matt Onken and Annie Porbeni are unencumbered candidates who offer the greatest potential for moving the district in the right direction.
Kate Niemann, Stillwater Township
The board’s job
After serving for six years on the Stillwater Area Schools Board of Education, I am well aware of the deep divide in this district. It seems some of the issue is a difference in philosophy. I believe the public should have a say in how the public schools are run. That’s why there is a school board and the voters get to choose who serves in that role. The other philosophy is that we should do as administration says. It’s a “Don’t question the experts” view.
The board and administration should work in partnership and mutual respect. The board’s job is to ask questions, share the community’s values, and drive decision-making. The administration’s job is to convince the board that what they are asking for is what is best for kids. The following candidates are the five I believe would do just that:
Dawn Beavers is dedicated to making the district better. She will do what she believes is right and not always go with a majority vote.
Tim Brewington cares deeply about kids, has a special ed lens, and wants healing for the district.
Bill Gilles has been following district happenings for many years, is smart, and cares about kids.
Mike Ptacek, with whom I served the entire time I was on the board, cares deeply about this district. We sometimes disagreed (strongly) on how things were done, but I don’t doubt his commitment and dedication to this district. No one spent more time on board work than he did.
I served with Sarah Stivland for three and a half years. I most appreciate her tenacity and refusal to give up. We also disagreed at times, but I still believe she will work hard to serve our schools well.
Shelley Pearson, Stillwater
A too-cozy relationship
The Stillwater school board election is the most important in recent history. For the first time in nearly 30 years, the teachers union has endorsed candidates. These five have repeatedly broken campaign rules by holding banners and signs on school property. Each time they are told to stop, they do it again on different school district properties.
With all the controversy surrounding the former superintendent and financial director, much misinformation has been disseminated. As a former state representative, it was apparent to me that a departure for those administrators was necessary to heal the district. The board made the difficult decision to begin the healing process.
I encourage voters in ISD834 to carefully consider which candidate will represent the teachers, students, parents, community, and taxpayers. It is troubling that the Minnesota teachers union is contributing money to the campaigns of the five endorsed candidates. That cozy relationship is not in the best interest of our community.
Kathy Lohmer, Stillwater
Speed bumps and drama
I am a substitute school bus driver for the Stillwater area schools. I have been paying attention to this issue.
Over the last few years the Stillwater School board majority has disparaged the purchase of a bus terminal as a boondoggle. Now when success is in sight, they claim victory and call it a state-of-the art facility.
Financial prudence made purchasing a bus terminal a good decision for the school district. Owning a facility improves our position when negotiating transportation contracts. Owning this property allows more money to stay in the classroom. Otherwise lease payments would come out of the operational budget that funds curriculum, teachers & technology. The Bus Terminal is fully paid for from the 2015 voter approved Building Construction Fund. Forever, the district will be the beneficiary of its increasing property value.
Yes, there have been speed bumps along the way. As other districts have found out, very few properties are available for similar use in the metro area. Cities are hesitant to welcome such facilities due to the lack of tax base and a junkyard perception. Facing this challenge, the search took longer than planned while real estate kept rising. The final cost escalated, but the original referendum was still able to fund it.
Then the real drama started. The seller/developer failed in his contractual obligations to install water and sewer. The city prohibited the interim use of the facility. A vocal minority started a smear campaign against the administrators involved. Where was the school board during this? They were pointing fingers, launching costly investigations, refusing to release those findings and subjecting the district to expensive lawsuits. They fired the superintendent and director of finance. They did not propose or seek a solution.
Now that the obstacles are nearly cleared, they claim it as their victory calling it a state-of-art facility. These people are asking to be elected or re-elected. I say no. It is time to vote in the challengers who have fought this unbelievable foolishness all along. Vote Alison Sherman and Bev Petrie for the two-year seats and Katie Hockert, Matt Onken and Annie Porbeni for the four-year seats.
Pete Kelzenberg, Afton
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