Legal Challenges of BOLD Plan Begin Piling Up for Stillwater Area Public Schools

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 11.17.48 PM

Stillwater Area Public Schools’ legal team is going to be busy in the months following the Board’s decision to approve Superintendent Denise Pontrelli’s BOLD plan.

Stillwater parent group 834 VOICE has filed the first of two expected lawsuits against Stillwater Area Public Schools in an attempt to reverse the BOLD plan to close three Marine, Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools.

The 834 VOICE group’s attorney Fritz Knaak on Monday filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari with the Minnesota Court of Appeals seeking to reverse the school board’s decision to close the schools.

“The certiorari appeal process exists for direct challenges like this one to a school board’s decision to close schools,” Knaak said. “This particular part of the challenge will have the Appeals Court look at the record the Board had in front of it — and decide whether there was enough evidence in it to justify the decision.”

The appeals court will not offer an opinion of the school board’s interpretation of evidence, Knaak said, but it would determine if there was enough “good evidence to show that the closings were both ‘necessary’ and ‘practicable.’”

The court of appeals petition is the first step of a litigation process that 834 VOICE is bringing against Stillwater Area Public Schools.

Another Lawsuit on the Horizon

In the coming weeks, Knaak said a complaint will be filed in District court against the district addressing a wider range of allegations — including illegal meetings and financial conflicts of interest — that was originally outlined in a Notice of Claim that 834 VOICE served to the district on Feb. 9.

Here is the full Notice of Claim

“While the Certiorari review process will allow us to quickly get into the underlying factual issues of the board’s decision, it is limited to that issue only,” said Zis Weisberg, a spokesperson for 834 VOICE. “It will be necessary to raise additional issues in a separate action at the District Court level to make sure all of the problems caused by the Board’s actions are addressed.”

Hearing Set in Douglas v. Stillwater Area Public Schools

In a separate lawsuit filed against the school district, Melissa Douglas has filed a writ of mandamus to require the district to improve elementary schools in accordance with the May 12, 2015 bond question approved by voters or seek new voter approval for a changed purpose.

Douglas, through her attorney Erick Kaardal, alleges:

“Stillwater Area School District, after obtaining voter approval for school building bonds not to exceed $97.5 million now seeks to materially change the original purpose for the obligation proceeds. By doing so, the School District is violating not only statutory law, but the social contract between it and the parents to obtain passage of the bond obligations. Instead of making improvements to existing schools it now plans to close three elementary schools…

We, the taxpayers, voted on May 12, 2015 in favor of the bond project based on this planned investment in our neighborhood schools,” Douglas said. “This investment was an explicit endorsement and covenant by the Board to the voters that it planned to upgrade these schools and keep them open.”

District Court Judge John McBride ordered Stillwater Area Public Schools on March 18 “to show cause why this Court should not grant Melissa Douglas an alternative writ of mandamus [and] … shall explain to the Court why the requested relief should not be granted.”

Superintendent Pontrelli has said that the district’s legal team believes the lawsuits brought against the district have no merit.

  • A hearing date in Douglas’ case against the district has been set for 1:30 p.m., June 17 in Washington County District Court.

13 Order to Show Cause for an Alternative Writ of Mandamus 3 14 16

Want more local stuff?

Stillwater Current is on a mission to spread local news. 

If you like what you see, try our daily email.