Lawmakers Step in to Assist Citizens Fighting Stillwater Elementary Schools Closures


The battle over the Stillwater School District ISD 834 proposal to close three elementary schools continues to heat up.

Oak Park ElementaryA week before Christmas the ISD 834 school board and administration proposed closing Withrow, Marine, and Oak Park Heights elementary schools.  Parents and community members upset by the proposal quickly organized and have been working to fight the school closures, which the district claims will save $1.26 million and will allow for more equity between schools.  Opponents claim that closing the schools would be detrimental to the communities the schools serve and have been critical of the lack of community comment allowed on the issue by the district.

g_marine-school-association-3793-1438888843.0583

In a recent email to Alpha News, STOP BOLD COLD leader Lance Cunningham said that on Monday, January 4th, nine parents met with school administration officials for three hours where they voiced “concerns and perspectives and asked them to delay the recommendation so that the community could be engaged and work on a mutual solution in resolving the challenges facing the district.” According to Mr. Cunningham, “The administration has refused to do so and continued with their plan as is.” He then asserted: “We remain steadfast on our mission to convince the ISD 834 board that they must vote ‘no’ to the Bold proposal.”

withrow-elementary-school-in-stillwaterThe mission includes contacting their legislators: State Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point), Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) and Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater) who then sent a letter to the Stillwater School Board expressing their concerns with the process used by ISD 834 school board and administration officials with regard to community involvement in the decision to close three schools.  According to the letter, Housley, Lohmer and Dettmer met with Superintendent Pontrelli on Jan. 8th.  The only school board member who was also at the meeting was Kathy Buchholz.  In the letter the legislators state:

We had a two hour meeting where many questions were asked, but few answers were given. The sense was that the decision to close these schools had been made, a video was produced to promote the BOLD agenda, and our thoughts and questions were not given serious considerations.

Just to clarify, we are all huge proponents of local control, but we are extremely concerned with the process in regards to the BOLD initiative and the lack of opportunity for community input.

Echoing the concerns of the STOP BOLD COLD group, the legislators go on to say:

As elected representatives, we all have a responsibility to give our constituents a voice by listening when they speak up. We are concerned that the message being interpreted by parents is that the school board simply wants to divide and conquer.

STOP BOLD COLD has also received support from Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski, who shares parents’ and legislators concerns.  KSTP reported Kozlowski said, “The process has been done too quickly and people have not had a fair chance to voice their opinion on an important matter and voters gave them a lot of money for these types of things and I don’t think a lot of people have a taste for closing schools.” KSTP also reports that Kozlowski “intends to contact the State Auditor to ask about the possibility of auditing the school district’s financial books.”

Last week, Stillwater schools sent Superintendent Pontrelli to NYC for a “Superintendents’ Strategy Summit” held by the District Management Council – an education-related organization which requires districts pay a minimum $25,000/year for “membership.” Citizens’ comments on the Alpha News article (Facebook and the website) reflected the disappointment and disgust people had for districts’ claiming a need for more funding while engaging in what many of the commentators saw as frivolous spending by the district.  It would seem that many of the commentators would agree with the need for the State to audit ISD 834’s books:

comments2

comments3

comments4

comments5

Stillwater School District ISD 834 has scheduled “Community Conversations” for interested parents and community members to hear more about the BOLD plan for each affected elementary school:

Oak Park Elementary: Tuesday, Jan. 26 beginning at 5 p.m. at Oak-Land Junior High.
Withrow Elementary: Wednesday, Jan. 27 beginning at 5 p.m. at Oak-Land Junior High.
Marine Elementary: Thursday, Jan. 28 beginning at 5 p.m. at Oak-Land Junior High.

The meeting notice states the meetings will last until “all interested parties have spoken.” Residents are also encouraged to visit the Stillwater B.O.L.D. “My Sidewalk” page to leave comments regarding the issue.  The ISD 834 School Board will vote on the issue at the Feb. 11, 2016 meeting.