Local Views: ‘We deserve the best possible value for the dollar, not cronyism’

Who is 834VOICE?

According to a letter published in the Stillwater Gazette Aug. 12 by Mr. Blondin, we’re a “dark money group funded by hidden political agents.”

Mr. Blondin asked, “who are the special interests out to harm public education in our community by funding 834VOICE?”

He also attacked my credibility.

These attacks are nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to divert attention away from district wrong-doing. This same strategy is being used by the District’s legal team instead of addressing serious allegations.

I submitted this column to the Gazette requesting a fair opportunity to defend myself and 834VOICE. They refused to allow anything more than a brief response.

834VOICE is an organization of local residents who feel defrauded by the district after  supporting the latest bond referendum, and decided to ask questions about the process.

834VOICE represents parents and long-time residents of this district fed up with dishonest and unethical behavior. We’re a non-profit, 501(c) 4 organization, incorporated with the State. We’ve had individuals fulfilling the roles of key officer positions, as required by law, but this is an informal, volunteer organization.

This was clear in my deposition where I stated we have no “formal” officers. I never stated we have no officers. We are all juggling our jobs with parenthood and trying to conduct this lawsuit. Hundreds of community members have contributed their time, money, and volunteer effort to restore honesty, transparency and ethical decision making to our school district.

There is no other hidden purpose.

This has been a financial burden for everyone involved. To claim we are funded by some secret anti-education or luxury home-building group is preposterous. Why are many of us spending countless hours acting as amateur paralegals to help conduct this case? Why do we have well-publicized garage sales, silent auctions, flea market booths and numerous other fundraisers?

There is no dark money, no hidden benefactor, no Illuminati, or whatever conspiracy Mr. Blondin’s fervid imagination can conjure up.

I’ll be the first to admit we’ve made mistakes. We’ve underestimated how difficult this would be. But, let’s be clear — we are not publicly elected officials overseeing a budget of over a $100 million dollars. When someone demands transparency from an organization like 834VOICE, but doesn’t demand the same from their own school district, they are trying to divert attention away from district wrongdoing.

834VOICE has discovered compelling evidence that our school district lied repeatedly to the public. They ignored their own policies and State law covering-up conflicts of interest involving former board member Kathy Buchholz and current Executive Director of Finance Kristen Hoheisel.

All of this evidence comes from the District’s own documents through deposition and email discovery:

From September to early December 2015, secret, small group meetings were purposely held to avoid public knowledge of obviously sensitive information. When board members claimed December 17, 2015 was the first time they heard about closing schools that was not truthful. Board member Pearson even testified that Chairman Hoeppner and board member O’Loughlin expressed support for closing schools well before voting on March 3, 2016.

Kathy Buchholz served on the school board for about 10 years. Her husband is a principal vice president with BWBR, the architecture firm chosen for the $97.5 million bond projects approved May 2015.

BWBR made around $5 million from this work. Mr. Buchholz’s deposition testimony confirmed he profited from BWBR’s contract even though he didn’t work directly on the project. Ms. Buchholz never disclosed she would financially benefit from this contract. It is prohibited by law for a public official to profit from work contracted with a spouse. Ms. Buchholz admitted there is no separation of income in the family.

Board members admitted not following their own board policy or State statute with regard to Ms. Buchholz.

This issue was addressed by the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) in an April 1, 2016 letter.  The OSA identified the potential conflicted relationship, described the affidavit and resolution process required by law, and recommended the district investigate. District leadership ignored the Auditor’s recommendations.

Amazingly, the district used this letter on their website to falsely claim the State Auditor found no conflicts of interest. Once the Auditor was made aware of this, the district was forced to take this down.

Executive Director of Finance, Kristen Hoheisel, has also been accused of violating conflict of interest laws. She profited from district contracts through her husband’s financial advisory firm, R.W. Baird. Baird made $115,000 from bond related work.

In the Sartell school district, financial advisors, PMA, made about $10,000 for a similar sized bond. Ms. Hoheisel was the sole authorizer of this $115,000 wired amount at the time of the bond closing. No one from the District can provide documentation showing how this fee was calculated.

Board members testified that Ms. Hoheisel can bind the district to contracts up to $100,000 without board approval; however, they told the State Auditor’s Office she has no decision making ability. Ms. Hoheisel’s claim that this $115,000 amount was specified in the February 2015 Review and Comment proposal isn’t backed up by the actual contract signed with Baird in July 2015 where the fee was not specified.

No board member testified to approving this amount, knowledge of the exact fee, or why the fee was unspecified in the contract.

Few would disagree that public business should be transacted in an honest, transparent, and ethical manner.

Clear evidence shows this didn’t happen.

Instead of accountability, the district’s response has been to attack those asking legitimate questions. We should be able to trust board members and administrators have taken appropriate safeguards to ensure decisions are made in the best interests of our children, not those who stand to profit. This trust has been severely damaged.

We deserve the best possible value for the dollar, not cronyism.

Without trust, how does this district pass another levy or bond? Re-establishing trust could start with accountability, but unfortunately, the district is doing everything they can to avoid answering to the community.

This strategy may work in court, but in the long run, we all lose.

  • Carl Blondin

    Carl Blondin’s first axiom of American politics: The larger the subsidy the louder the squealing when the snout is yanked from the public trough. That is what we are hearing from 834 Voice and Dr. Weisberg. ISD 834’s income is limited. The District cannot afford to run elementary schools of 150 or so students with 17 children per classroom while it has 35 or more students per classroom in other schools. Long overdue financial reform has been made. 834 Voice wants to perpetuate irresponsible special interest spending on economically unviable elementary schools at the expense of thousands of other students in ISD 834. Like skilled propagandists Dr. Weisberg and 834 Voice repeat unfounded allegations against the District, board members and ISD 834 employees. If there was a ghost of a chance of winning their lawsuit 834 Voice would have joined BWBR and RW Baird as parties, but they did not because those firms would have hired lawyers with fangs, and 834 Voice and its so called “officers” would have been hit with very heavy financial sanctions for baseless and frivolous litigation. I wrote a letter of about 215 words to the Gazette and they limited you to a 350 word response. Cry me a river, Dr. Weisberg, cry me a river.

    • Carrie K

      Carl, I am still trying to figure out where these mythical classes of 17 students were? At OPE last year we had a first grade class of 28 and my daughter’s classes kindergarten through second grade were always in the mid 20’s. This was not the exception, but the rule. Now at Lily Lake, which is a wonderful school, we no longer have a computer lab and a smaller media center because there are not enough classrooms. There is a fourth grade class and three fifth grade classrooms separated by bookshelves in one big open area. At least one of the classrooms has high tables and stools with no backs that fourth graders have to sit on all day. Can you imagine trying to learn all day long on what is basically a bar stool? This doesn’t seem like an equitable education to me. Maybe its just harder for me when I have to pass a school filled with twelve admin and all this empty space to take my children to a school that doesn’t have enough classrooms to have the equitable education 834 is working so hard to provide.

      • Carl Blondin

        The under-populated classrooms were in Marine and Afton. They are no more. You will be hard-pressed to find any elementary classrooms at 28 now that BOLD has started. There are enough classrooms at Lily Lake. The school has 22 classrooms and at an ideal capacity of 25 per classroom that would be 550 students. Lily Lake has only 481 students as of the first day of school this year. There is more than enough room in that building for all the students. The classrooms have not been modified for years. Perhaps you are referring to an area that was once an open area much like Stonebridge used to be, but was modified and made into several classrooms a number of years back. There is no change from last year, or the year before, or the year before that. There is plenty of furniture, desks and chairs for all the students. The teachers have some new and different furniture in some classrooms, but that is at the request of the teachers to set up their classroom the way the teachers want them set up. No one is spending the day at a bar stool. As usual a nonstop torrent of disinformation from 834 Voice. Things are far more equitable than they would be wasting money the way 834 Voice advocates. Things have improved markedly in ISD 834. Carrie K, please stop spreading lies.

        • Carrie K

          Carl, yes in a perfect world that would be how schools would work there are 481 students in Lily Lake this year divide by 25 and life is good, but that would include having mixed grade classes. There are four kindergarten classrooms with 18 in each class. In your scenario with 25 that only includes 2.88 classrooms for K, but we have four. Add that to all the extra classrooms that are needed for the ASD program and the other cluster program you have a classroom shortage. Which is why the computer lap is now the teachers lounge, etc. Have you been into Lily Lake this year? I have and seen all of this with my own eyes. I am not spreading lies. I am in fact very happy with Lily Lake, but also know that its not the pretty picture our administration is trying to paint.

          • Carl Blondin

            No, you are not thinking. The reason there are four classrooms of 18 is because there is plenty of classroom space. Ideal capacity would be four classrooms of 25.

          • Lisa Hill DeMars

            For once we can agree, Carl. Your statement, “You have to remember the only thing coming from 834 is an unrelenting torrent of lies.” Is a perfect summary of the last couple of years. Thank you!

          • Carl Blondin

            Thank you. I appreciate that coming from one of the most dishonest of 834 Voice’s political actors. I am glad you are owning up to the damage that 834 Voice has caused.

          • Lisa Hill DeMars
          • Lisa Hill DeMars

            What am I lying about, Carl?

          • Carl Blondin

            If you are the DeMars that speaks out against ISD 834 publicly, everything. You have nor made one honest factual statement. Lots of opinions and anger, zero facts.

          • Lisa Hill DeMars

            You are such a sad, sad person, and so angry. I have never lied. I have, however quoted the interim superintendent, the board members, the current superintendent, and the financial director. All can be proven, and you know it too. A friend told me you were attacking my character on this thread, but I’m not concerned. It’s your character that is in question here. Take it easy, Carl. BTW, I don’t want Stillwater schools to fail, just want new leadership.

          • Carl Blondin

            Actually, I am pretty happy with life. I am not the one who is the angry name caller. You are. All you do is berate people and repeat lies. We have fantastic leaders. You are just an exceptionally greedy person who wants overcrowded classrooms so unneeded buildings can be kept open. 834 Voice is all about adult egos and greed and nothing to do with children’s education.

          • Lisa Hill DeMars

            So, you’re not angry? And yet here we are. But now, I’m confused again. You say I am “…an exceptionally greedy person who wants overcrowded classrooms so unneeded buildings can be kept open.” That makes absolutely no sense. I don’t want overcrowded classrooms and I think the children in the north end of the district should have a community school, just like the kids in the south end of the district. Which is one of the reasons I voted for the bond. I believed the district needed a new school in the south to help alleviate the over crowding at A/L and LE. I agreed that the kids from VC that were in 834 should have the right to stay in 834, regardless as to what happened with that building. I voted “yes” to the bond. I guess we’ll see in a few weeks if they really “fulfilled bond promises.” Oh, and I don’t lie (well, except about Santa and the tooth fairy.) Be kind to yourself, Carl.

          • Carl Blondin

            You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You voted for the bond and the addition of 900 seats of capacity. How did you intend to pay for all that extra operations and maintenance expenses with no new source of income and without closing down excess elementary school capacity created by moving the sixth graders to the middle schools (and ninth graders to the high school)? Wave a magic wand? Spare me. Your disenginuity is too much. The three largest parts of the budget are employee compensation (vast majority for teachers), transportation and operations and maintenance. Those are tje only parts of the annual budget with enough money to pay for the increase in operations and maintenance expenses caused by addimg 900 seats. Cutting transportation is not an option. That leaves cutting operations and maintenance or cutting the number of teachers. If you do not cut operations and maintenance (close unneeded schools) you must cut employee compensation (lay off teachers). So it is either eliminate unneeded buildings or increase class sizes. There is no free lunch here as the 834 demagogues suggest.

          • Lisa Hill DeMars

            This, Carl, is exactly why I am upset with the administration. They told us we could have it all and I relied on their expertise. Tom Nelson, Malinda Lansfeldt, and Mark Drommerhausen came to a PTO meeting and gave their presentation on what the bond would do and how important the timing was because it wouldn’t increase our taxes. I believed them, Carl. You can say that this group is no longer at the helm, but that doesn’t matter. Most of the current board is, and they knew exactly what the schools were being told. Your outrage towards the community members and taxpayers is misdirected. Channel that anger towards the folks that deceived the voters and we could be on the same side. You’re defending the wrong side. Just imagine what we could do if we combined your knowledge of school district finances and our passion for justice! Oh, and I don’t lie. Have a good day! (Where are the 900 searts?)

          • Carl Blondin

            The addition to SAHS and building Brookview which replaced the seats at Valley Crossing and added some more. The total is the neighborhood of 900 seats. They are not free. But in conjucntion with closing down excess unneed elementary schools you can reduce spending on operations and maintenance, school level administration, have specialists spending more time with students and less time driving between buildings and improve all academic programs.

            You really need to start paying attention to facts rather than the disinformation campaign of 834 Voice, Melissa Douglas and the anti-public education lobby. Let’s just review the facts. Tom Nelson, Denny Bloom, Mike Ptacek, George Hoeppner, Kathy Buchholz, Amy Burback, Natasha Fleishman, and Natalie Fedor were the administrators and politicians primarily responsible for putting together the bond proposal. All but Ptacek and Hoeppner are gone. Denise Pontrelli comes on board and reviews the needs of the District’s students, the resources available, and the financial problems created by the above-named administrators and politicians. She puts forth her best effort and makes her recommendation, BOLD. Let’s also note that Denise Pontrelli, the first superintendent in a generation to put the classroom first, nixes Tom Nelson’s doubling up grades in some classrooms and makes sure there is only one grade per classroom (remember that Nelson doubled up grades at Marine). She puts the students first. She never was “anti-Marine.” She helped the students at Marine after Tom Nelson hurt them. The board then votes to implement BOLD. Mike Ptacek, the biggest demagogue to sit on the board since George Thole, votes no, but makes no effort to cut spending to make up for his vote to increase capacity by 900 students. The vast majority of that excess capacity was at the elementary level because the elementary schools were reduced from 7 grades to 6 grades. At least George Hoeppner owned up the financial mess he helped create and voted for BOLD. Ptacek accepts responsibility for nothing. Then, the anti-education lobby attacks Paula O’Laughlin, who was the only member of the board responsible enough to vote to eliminate the wasteful and unneeded sports spending in the bond proposal. Even Tom Lehmann, usually the most fiscally conservative and financially responsible board member, did not have Paula’s courage. I see an unholy alliance between the 834 Voice activists and the sports lobby, with many members of the later supporting the former.. The sports lobby does not want to act like adults and privately fund anything. They are exceptionally greedy and want the taxpayers to pay for everything. Then I look at 834 Voice. Who are they and their allies praising? Melissa Douglass who falsely stated in her lawsuit that money from the bond was being used to close schools and then publicly made the false and defamatory statement that the District’s Director of Finance wrote a check to her husband without further approval from the board. No one calls her out on her repeated false statements. In addition she is so ill-educated about the bond that she did not even know that all the money at the closing was wired. No checks were written. Yet you continue to hold her up as someone who knows what she is talking about. Chad Gamradt, an attorney, misrepresents state law on how bond proceeds may be used at a public forum, then falsely states the District had an 11 million dollar surplus at a time when the projected surplus was less than $4,000. To the best of my knowledge the addition to the unallocated fund balance remained under $10,000. Sarah Stivland repeats this false information and then later praises the information presented at a public forum where Melissa Douglass made false and defamatory statements about ISD 834’s Finance Director. You praise these people who repeatedly make false statements for crass political purposes. I could go on and on and on, but suffice it to say there has been nothing but a torrent of lies and defamatory statements coming from 834 Voice, exceptionally immature and irresponsible statements. You do not hold Mike Ptacek responsible for the problem he helped create, but you attack people trying to fix the mess made by others. ISD 834’s Finance Director Kristen Hoheisel has been professional and non-partisan throughout the process, exactly what one wants from a public servant, but she is constantly demonized. Zis Wisberg, who wrote and editorial in the Pioneer Press a bit over a year ago ,misstated the law in order to confuse people. You praise him. He then publishes an editorial in The Current where he equates the work of Sartell-St. Stephen’s financial advisor on a negotiated debt sale with the work that ISD 834’s financial advisor did on a competitive debt sale, in order to argue that the fees charged by 834 Voice’s financial advisor were unreasonable, demagoguery of the worst sort, yet you praise him. I have seen nothing but a Soviet-style disinformation campaign and attempted character assassination from 834 Voice. I see 834 Voice wasting District time and energy on frivolous and vexatious litigation, which has so far turned out to have no basis in fact or law for a good faith claim. None. Denise Pontrelli runs a tight ship and does not tolerate the political shenanigans that Tom Nelson could not resist as a career politician. Yet you attack the honest person. No one from 834 Voice has ever made a serious proposal on financial reform in our district no one. Not ever. I can assure you this, while BOLD is a good start, it is not enough to correct the spendthrift habits of the last generation of school boards who have shamelessly pandered to special interests such as the sports lobby and keeping open academically and financially inefficient elementary schools. Denise Pontrelli does not lie. But I hear an unrelenting torrent of lies from 834 Voice and its supporters. While the District is completely transparent with its fiances, 834 Voice has chose to operate as a 503(c)(4) dark money organization. Why would any person of good will, who wants to live in a civil society, support 834 Voice and its vitriolic anti-public education agenda?

          • ISD834 parent

            Attorney Blondin asks: “How did you intend to pay for all that extra operations and maintenance expenses with no new source of income?” That is a legitimate, excellent question and gets to the heart of the matter. Where he goes awry is in addressing his question to the wrong people. He is now attempting to shoot the messengers. He should have asked: how did our officials — the keepers of the public trust — who cooked up the bond and sold it to voters, repeatedly, unambiguously, unanimously, and in multiple public communications channels intend to pay for “all that extra operations and maintenance expense?” It has subsequently become crystal clear that voters were double-crossed, and dramatically so. There may, or may not, have been defensible reasons for the policies that were subsequently put in place. But neither those policies nor their subsequent ostensible justifications were those represented to voters by public officials prior to the vote. Attorney Blondin has had many legitimate criticisms about voters’ fantasies of magic money trees and has made those points consistently over years. It would be a terrible shame for that voice to be discredited as a result of being manipulated into a mouthpiece for the very set of people who deceived voters simply because he approves of the policy outcomes. Successful attorneys are generally resistant to being unwittingly played for fools, but I have a very nagging feeling that he has become the victim of puppet-masters and has not yet realized it. In reading through these comments, it really does seem as if he is on the side of those he is, for the moment at least, so vehemently attacking and denouncing.

          • Carl Blondin

            The puppet masters are the folks who ordered Roger Chamberlain, Matt Dean, Kathy Lohmer and Karin Housley to all show up at the same time at the Withrow Ballroom for a dog and pony show. Please note that the District is transparent in its finances. 834 Voice has chosen to operate as a 401 (c)(4) dark money organisation. 834 Voice has run a Soviet-style disinformation campaign and you appear to be one of the willing apparatchiks.

          • Kristie Mack

            If the district is transparent in its finances, why did they publicly disseminate information that operating and maintenance costs for Brookview could be covered without closing any schools?

          • Carl Blondin

            Tom Nelson and Denny Bloom were selling that bill of goods. I did not buy it and called out Tom Nelson on it at the informational meeting at SJHS before the vote. Looks like I was right. I think Nelson mislead the board. That’s water under the bridge now. In any case, Denise Pontrelli had nothing to do with that. She is the honest broker here.

          • Carl Blondin

            So your life revolves around other people’s typographical errors. You must be proud.

        • deedeeafton

          Carl, I am wondering if you mis-typed. You wrote Afton as a school with too few students last year. I just pulled out the numbers from last year at Afton, where I used to have a student, and there weren’t any of those classes.

          • Carl Blondin

            No I did not mistype. The problem is the school age population in the north is declining. What was Marine’s population last year? 122? With seven grades that would be an average of less than 18 per classroom.

  • Georgie Seaver

    I found Dr. Weisberg’s account of the lack of transparency in District 834 to be very compelling. Carl Blondin: I know you disagree, but am I missing something?

    I also read the comments posted by others, and I am saddened to hear that parents/students are experiencing larger class sizes and more mixed grade classes in our elementary schools. Was this the intended result of closing so many elementary schools?

    I also heard that the school board proposed spending double the amount it promised on a bus storage facility and that, when questioned, one of our school board members, Paula O’Loughlin, announced that she will only meet with “Christian” parents. And that the district’s hate crime and bullying policies are not in compliance with federal laws. This is very alarming.

    All members of the St. Croix Valley community would benefit by having an excellent school district, yet something has been faltering ever since the BOLD initiative took place. I don’t know if suing the school district, which Voice 834 has taken on, is the best route, but clearly, SOMETHING must change.

    • Carl Blondin

      First, Zis Weisberg has made a large number of statements that are demonstrably false. Take what he says with a grain of salt. Second, class sizes on average are not larger this year. Anyone who says so is being deceitful. Third, the school board did not promise to spend a certain amount on a bus facility. That is another outright lie by 834 Voice supporters. The bond referendum authorized up to $3.5 million in borrowing to pay for a facility. The board could spend zero or part of the $3.5 million and return the balance of the money to the taxpayers. Or The board could spend the entire $3.5 million from the bond sale and supplement that with money in its capital account to purchase a facility that costs more tban $3.5 million. That has always been the law. I am sorry if 834 Voice confused you with their exceptionally dishonest disinformation campaign. Paula O’Laughlin never said she would only meet with Christians. That is a malicious lie started by a person who has a long history of publicly misstating things. Paula O’Laughlin is a gracious person who meets with anyone. You could not find a kinder, more gentle and wonderful human being. Things are improving in ISD 834 thanks to BOLD. We have closed down inefficient and unneeded buildings that wasted scarce tax dollars. Be thankful for that. Class sizes are smaller. We have started a Spanish language immersion program.

      • Sandi ‘Winslade’ Hayner

        She said that she doesn’t surround herself nor spend time with those who are “un Christian like” because she holds herself to a higher moral and ethical standard.
        That’s not a malicious lie.
        But it is malicious of her.
        It’s not a “misstatement” either.
        It’s a direct quote.
        I was there.
        Carl was not.

        Maybe Carl on the other hand, is spreading a lie? He’s never spoken to me other than to stick his stubby finger in my face (and 2 others) outside a board meeting, yelling that I was “selfish, just like all the other 834Voice supporters”. When questioned further about that, he stormed off, making a complete spectacle of himself. Shockingly, this is what occurred after another gentleman, who disagrees with BOLD, said that Carl had a valid point in regards to sports spending and wanted to discuss it further.
        I was not the only one to witness this tantrum.
        He also once asked me a question at the town hall mtg. (Questioning the validity of the district only spending 4% of their budget on “learning”. That is a stat that came right from the district.)
        That’s it.

        If you read closely you will find ad hominem fallacies abound. It seems it’s how he chooses to excuse poor behavior by board and admin and also dismiss unfavorable facts from opposition.

        Paula’s “great” and I’m a “liar”, which is why the conversation he wasn’t even there for doesn’t matter.
        Because he said.
        No need to think, ask questions, or make up your own mind. He’ll do that for you.
        See that alternate logic?

        That’s neat.

        • Carl Blondin

          You are an exceptionally dishonest person. You publicly stated that the School District spends only 4% of its income on instruction. Approximately half of the budget is spent on teachers salaries. That is money spent on instruction. You constantly misstate District financial data. Constantly. It is like a disease with you. The District has never stated that only 4% of the budget is spent on instruction. You constantly misstate and twist things. That is your modus operandi. And you always play the victim card. It is tiring. Find a life.

          I have never wagged my finger in your face. That is a lie. Again, you playing the victim card.

          I do not lie. When I make an error I stand corrected. I have never noticed you to stand corrected.

          Go back and watch and listen to your public statement at the last board meeting. It is one of the most most malicious and childish public displays I have ever witnessed.

          I asked Paula what happened. She told me what happened. Given the option between her description and trusting you, a person who is constantly misstating things, it is not a hard choice. I will take Paula’s word before your word any day.

          I cannot remember one truthful statement that you have ever made in public. Not one. The only thing I can remember is your name-calling and lying.

          I call it like I see it. Too much money is wasted on sports. Not enough is spent in the classroom. BOLD is a huge improvement over the waste of keeping open unneeded and inefficient buildings and frees up more money for teachers and academic programs. You and 834 Voice want inefficiency, waste and crowded classrooms. You and they do not want more teachers and more academic opportunity. You and they oppose responsible financial reform. At every turn.

          • Sandi ‘Winslade’ Hayner

            Check again, Carl.
            Yes, they did.
            4% on learning.
            11% on facilities and maintenance.
            85% on Staffing.
            Their #’s. Not mine.

            Again with the ad hominem.
            Have a nice day, buddy.

          • Carl Blondin

            As usual you are lying. The 85% on staffing includes all teacher salaries, which is part of “learning.” You always misrepresent things. Always. You have never, never been honest. You always take things out of context, misstate things and make false statements. Always. Everyone is tired of it.

          • Sandi ‘Winslade’ Hayner

            Carl,
            I didn’t make up the categories. They did:
            Staffing, facilities& maintenance, and learning.
            Take it up with them.
            They presented this multiple times as the proof of spending too much on all those bricks and mortar (facilities and maintenance). Hence, BOLD…so more could be spent on “learning” (remember, back when it was about “programming”?).
            I’ll post something for you later. You can go troll and find it there.
            Because that’s what you always do.
            Always.

            After that, we should plan a meeting to discuss all these other things you claim.
            I’m intrigued.
            Especially because you’re on the finance team right? So, lots of the things people are unhappy about have been recommendations made by you and your team. Maybe that’s where all this uh…passion comes from?
            Defending your hard work?
            I’d like to understand more.
            Seriously.
            I’m inviting you to coffee.
            Whattaya say? 🙂
            Can’t hurt, right?

          • Sandi ‘Winslade’ Hayner

            Wait, looks like I can just upload here.
            Great!
            Later, they broke this down and explained that the 15% is split 11/4.

            Awkward moment, huh?

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e0e29c2bb539d1ef279cc841cffe7c8de2a8883f70b7ea648ff565bf77e73343.jpg

          • Carl Blondin

            The only thing this shows me is you only read headlines and never use your brain to find out what is in a category. To suggest that teacher salaries are unrelated to students learning only illustrates your ignorance and hyperpartisanship. As is typical of 834 Voice members your life revolves around misrepresentions rather than intelligent discussions. Are you suggesting that the tens if millions of dollars the District spends on teacher salaries has nothing to do with learning? What you posted is a very simified chart with labels for convenience that only begin to break down areas of spending. If this is your argument you are exceptionally ignorant of public school finance.

          • MNGophers

            Use some cognitive sense here. That category really should be “learning resources” or something similar.

            If you think staffing doesn’t contribute to learning then I have some snow to sell you this January.

          • Carl Blondin

            Let’s see. You lie about me, and then you invite me to coffee? Am I missing something?

          • MNGophers

            Sandi, staffing is a part of learning. Who do you think helps to guide and instruct during the learning process?

      • Roxie

        Hi Carl, I find it ironic that you are ok with spending an
        additional $3mil from the reserves let alone $6mil to fund a bus garage that
        does not benefit the kids what so ever but all along during the school closing discussions
        you said we can’t spend money on bricks and mortar. I would think you would
        have wanted them to spend less than the $3mil allocated so it can be given back
        to the kids because that is all you ever talked about. What exactly is your
        stance on this district because I have seen you speak at meetings and comment
        on posts and I am confused on what your true focus is other than trying to talk
        negatively about 834 Voice and the community that supports them? You cannot and
        will not convince me ever that this administration/superintendent has been
        forthcoming and transparent in their behaviors. You cannot continue to say that
        the community is lying and making up falsities when that couldn’t be further
        from the truth. It is clear the current finance director along with a past
        board member obtained financial gains from administration dealings. How can you
        look past this conflict of interest? You are smart Carl, I know that. It is why
        it is disappointing that you support unethical behavior and the choices being
        made by this administration. One last item I want to mention is you talk about
        the class sizes being just where they need to be. What happens when they finish
        the development north of Lake Elmo Elementary and the development that will be
        built around the corner from there as well? Where are all those kids going to
        go? There will be no more room. The schools are at capacity. They would have
        had schools to put these kids into. Oh, wait, I bet they will just put up more
        bricks and mortar. They tore communities apart and they have nothing to show
        for it. The finance director said at a recent board meeting that she can’t
        account for the $1.3 million they said the district would save by closing the
        schools. In my option, this has been all for nothing and put the district in a terrible spot, one that will take years and years to recover from. Now, that is a fact!

        • Carl Blondin

          1. I am not saying that the community is lying. I am saying that 834 Voice is lying.
          2. You are lying because the captial fund is separate from the unassigned fund balance (budget reserve). You are trying to confuse people with that. Spending $3,000,000 from the capital fund is a very good idea because it frees up at least $150,000 from the annual budget that can be used to hire teachers instead of pay rent for a bus facility. It is completely opposite from maintaining unneeded elementary schools that have operation and maintenance costs that take up money from the annual budget that could be used to hire more teachers.
          3. My focus is financial efficiency which is the foundation for academic excellence.
          4. 834 Voice’s focus is special interest spending at the expense of ISD 834 students.
          5. The unethical behavior is that of 834 Voice, constantly lying about the facts.
          6. The school board voted to hire the Financial Director’s spouse. The Fianancial Director had nothing to do with that. To imply so is false and defamatory. That seems to be the modus operandi of 834 Voice.
          6. The reasons you cannot be convinced is that your greedy personal interest clouds your thinking.

          • Georgie Seaver

            I’d like to know more about Carl’s comment, “… the sports lobby, which seems to be supporting 834 Voice.” I am very concerned about the sports lobby, too, and I was extremely disturbed to see this district spend what I believe was $7 million to improve the football stadium, and then turn around and close three of our best performing elementary schools, and then tell us that all was done (including the upgrading of football facilities — artificial turf, I believe) in the best interest of ALL students. How does artificial turf benefit ALL students? Maybe the few that play football in high school? Carl is right on on some points.

          • Carl Blondin

            The cost was over $15 million for stadium improvements, artificial turf and the Pony Activity Center, or what I call the “Magic Pony Center” because it magically changed purposes the more questions I asked of the Board and then acting superintendent Tom Nelson’s administration. From what I can tell the real purpose of the Magic Pony Center is to provide indoor toilets for middle-aged high school football fans on cold Minnesota autumn evenings. Not my definition of responsible spending.

          • Georgie Seaver

            Was it a good idea that “the school board voted to hire the Financial Director’s spouse”? I think not. Maybe this type of nepotism should be avoided in the future.

          • Carl Blondin

            First, from your question it is obvious that you do not know what nepotism is. Nepotism is hiring a relative. The Finance Director did not do the hiring. There was no nepotism. That is a false and defamatory claim. Second, considering the excellent results obtained by RW Baird in the exceptionally low cost per dollar borrowed paid by the District, as a taxpayer I am delighted. Third, keep your eyes open. I have submitted an opinion piece to The Stillwater Current in which I go over in excruciating detail Zis Weisberg’s misrepresentions about the bond sale. I am sure that many will find it a fascinating education. Especially you, since you seem to be so enthralled by his tale.

  • Bob Katula

    So Zis Weisberg’s defense of his slipshod, consistent loser of an operation is “don’t look here, look over there”?

    Why shouldn’t we pay attention to an organization that has caused so much havoc and heartache throughout the district with unfounded accusations, personal attacks, unsubstantiated alternative facts, vindictive behavior and frivolous, failed lawsuits?

    Why shouldn’t the slapdash nature of this organization, its undisclosed financial support and its conflicts of interest with current members of the school board be publicly disclosed? How can Zis continually call for honesty, transparency and ethical decision making when the organization he heads as President refuses to live up to those same standards?

    On one hand he says 834 Voice is a non-profit, 501(c) 4 organization, incorporated with the State. The Minnesota Attorney General’s office says that means you should have a board of directors, officers, books, accounting records, articles and bylaws, voting agreements and meeting minutes.

    But because 834 Voice doesn’t meet all of those technical standards, Zis then claims it’s an informal, volunteer organization with no “formal” officers. Is that like a university with no “formal” professors? A hospital with no “formal” physicians? A law practice with no “formal” attorneys?

    Approximately $25,000 in donations to 834 Voice can be traced to actual people. But estimates of legal costs are well over $100,000 – maybe closer to $300,000 – to handle discovery, depositions, data requests, multiple lawsuits and appeals going back to February 9, 2016. Did 834 Voice really raise $275,000 with “well-publicized garage sales, silent auctions, flea market booths and numerous other fundraisers”? If that’s the case, United Way wants to get some tips from you.

    If the true purpose of 834 Voice is to re-establish trust and integrity in the district, wouldn’t every donor be proud to publicly declare their commitment to this high-minded cause? You’ve talked the talk. Now walk the walk. What do you have to hide?

  • ZWeisberg

    With Pavlovian predictability, Mr. Blondin salivates at the opportunity to attack virtually everyone who’s commented here. His behavior corroborates the central theme of this editorial–disingenuous attacks instead of addressing serious allegations backed by actual evidence. It’s disappointing that an attorney spreads so many ridiculous, baseless accusations. Mr. Blondin can’t show one piece of evidence proving 834VOICE has received funding from the “sports lobby.” Yet, he’s repeatedly flung this accusation. In fact, his letter to the Gazette spewed one fabrication after another, despite his self proclamation of 100% truthfulness. When’s the last time we’ve heard a genuinely honest person announce they never lie? With so much information available online, it can be a challenge knowing what to believe. Please read Mr. Blondin’s letter in the Gazette linked above. His unfounded comments are a direct reflection of his credibility.

    • Carl Blondin

      Pavlovian? Interesting choice of a word. I like dogs, do you? I am thinking of getting one in a year or two. Do you have any favorite breeds that you would recommend? Anyway, I do not recall mentioning that the sports lobby funded 834 Voice, probably because I do not know what 834 Voice’s finances are. By the way, since you have been identified as the President of 834 Voice maybe you can help me with that. Since January I have written to 834 Voice’s attorney asking for 834 Voice’s exemption documents and tax returns for inspection by me as federal law requires of all 501 (c)(4) organisations such as yours. Mr. Knaak has never replied. Would you be so kind as to put in a word for me and speed him along. That would certainly help me understand some of 834 Voice’s finances. Oh, and could you tell me of anyone besides 834 Voice who has paid any of Holstad & Knaak’s statements for professional services for the legal work completed on behalf of 834 Voice or the other plaintiffs suing ISD 834? Thanks.

    • Beth Ogren

      Two questions. Why have none of your serious allegations backed by evidence (including Melissa Douglas’ allegations) been proven in court? And why didn’t the corporate lawyers at BWBR and R.W. Baird advise against entering into contracts with the district if the conflicts of interest were so obvious as to jeopardize those contracts?

      • ZWeisberg

        The current lawsuit includes discovery–both district documents and deposition testimony. This is the evidence in this case. The Melissa Douglas case was a question of bond law and had no discovery. This lawsuit is active and hasn’t been settled. The contract Baird signed with the district did disclose the conflict of interest involving the Hoheisels. A copy of this contract was an exhibit in the depositions. Tom Lehmann, the board chairman at the time, signed the contract but never followed the board’s conflict of interest policy. In Brian Buchholz’s deposition he testified BWBR didn’t have a conflict of interest policy. His attorney disagreed pointing out BWBR does have a conflict policy. Buchholz just wasn’t aware of it.

        • Carl Blondin

          I am willing to bet a large pizza at The Grand that the remaining counts in 843 Voice’s lawsuit get tossed out on the summary judgment motion. Any takers? Winner picks toppings.

    • Tony Snark

      Damn, you are a ham-fisted brute with the english language. Using Pavlovian and salivates in the same sentence is on par with explaining a joke. Moreover, I am simultaneously amazed and bewildered by your use of “Cronyism” in the epigraph to your screed defending 834 Voice. Is your position in 834 Voice not the epitome of “Cronyism”?

    • Carl Blondin

      Dr. Weisberg, you told another lie. The payment to RW Baird was not authorized by Ms. Hoheisel. She had no authority to make the payment. The payment was wired by Piper Jeffrey. Why do you keep lying?

      • ZWeisberg

        What evidence do you have to support the credibility of your claim?

        • Carl Blondin

          All funds were disbursed via wire transfers by Piper Jaffrey pursuant to their contract with ISD 834. The Director of Finance was responsible for making sure that the routing and account numbers for the District’s bank account(s) were correct for The wire transfers. The authorization for disbursement came from the School Board through the instrument of its contract with Piper Jaffrey.

          • ZWeisberg

            Closing documents confirm Kristen Hoheisel was the only district official present at closing. Her authorization was required for Piper Jaffray to transfer funds to Baird. Not a single board member deposed could explain how Baird’s $115,000 fee was calculated. The closing documents and deposition testimony are part of the evidence in this case. Just like your letter in the Gazette, you provide no proof, no evidence of any kind to substantiate your unfounded claims. Credibility isn’t calling anyone who disagrees with you a liar.

          • Carl Blondin

            Proof reading and signing off on closing documents as to form did not create the contract. Think about things for a minute Zis. Why are the lawyers associated with 834 Voice (Gamradt, Mozey, Casdrly) having you address legal issues instead of doing it themselves? They are not doing it because 834 Voice’s contentions are so preposterous that they would embarrass themselves professionally if they did so. You are being played like a fiddle. Speaking of evidence, when is 834 Voice going to disclose its exemption documents, tax returns and the billing and payment records from Knaak & Holstad so the public can learn who is finamcing the litigation against the District?

          • ZWeisberg

            This response is very telling. Our contentions center on the lack of transparency, honesty, and ethical conduct displayed by too many school board members. You find these concerns “preposterous.” You refuse to acknowledge the evidence in this case, playing the role of attack dog for the defendants. I would argue you’re the one being played. We’ll see how preposterous these issues are with voters in about a year. Carl, we just don’t speak the same language regarding these issues. Continuing this back and forth is unproductive.

          • Carl Blondin

            If you find the back and forth unproductive, just be quiet.
            I have have looked at the evidence. So have nine judges and they have all ruled against you and Ms. Douglass on every single issue. Seven more if you include the Supreme Court justices who said your petition for review was without merit (in addition to not being filed on time). I am not sure what political elections have to do with finding the truth. I never knew truth was determined by majority vote. I thought majority vote only determines who wins elections. I will be waiting for you to demonstrate 834 Voice’s transparency by producing all of its financial records and all of the billing records showing payments by 834 Voice or others for legal work done on for the benefit of 834 Voice.

          • Carl Blondin

            I did some more research. Kristen Hoheisel was not present at the “closing.” She dod not sign anything. She did not “approve” anything. She wasn’t even there to say boo. Zis, you just fabricate things to support your conspiracy theories. Your posts are fact free zones. You are clueless about the mechanics of the bond sale.
            After the School Board approved the contract with RW Baird nothing more needed to be done by anyone connected with ISD 834.

  • Bob Katula

    Let’s dissect Zis Weisberg’s central theme: “We deserve the best possible value for the dollar, not cronyism.”

    First, the dictionary definition of “cronyism” is “the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, WITHOUT REGARD TO THEIR QUALIFICATIONS” (emphasis added).

    Is Zis claiming that BWBR, the architectural firm, and Baird, the financial services firm, are not qualified to do the work they were contracted to do?

    BWBR is one of the Upper Midwest’s oldest and largest design solutions firms and is consistently ranked in the top five architectural firms in the region. They have been working with the district for more than 20 years going back to Rutherford Elementary and, more recently, the ECFC. In addition to education, BWBR’s regularly handles multi-million dollar projects for the Mayo Clinic and Fortune 500 companies like 3M.

    Baird has been around for more than 95 years, handles $171 billion in assets for clients and has 3,300 employees on three continents. Mike Hoheisel, a managing director at Baird has been a senior VP specializing in education financing at Northland Securities and is affiliated with the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials, the Minnesota Institute of Public Finance and the Minnesota Rural Education Association.

    Unqualified? Like most of his assertions, Weisberg’s use of cronyism fails the fact test.

    But did we get the best possible value for the dollar with BWBR and Baird?

    BWBR was unanimously approved by the school board 6-0 (Mike Ptacek voted yes) as the architecture firm for the proposed facilities plan. A 1/19/15 Stillwater Gazette article on the vote noted that Kathy Buchholz abstained “due to her husband working for the medical design department of BWBR.”

    BWBR was chosen over two more expensive bids and two less expensive bids. Then-district director of operations Dennis Bloom said “the selection team felt that BWBR was more familiar with our district.” He also said that BWBR had a respected education planner, they were committed to working with local engineers and that the BWBR proposal “showed that they had really studied our long-range facilities plan and were bringing some innovative concepts and ideas. They are going to be able to hit the ground running and work in our tight schedule.”

    BWBR President and CEO Pete Smith certainly had a vested interest in providing the best value because he was a resident of the Stillwater Area School District who said he moved to the area specifically because of the district schools, which his two children attended.

    Working with Baird and Michael Hoheisel, the district was able to secure six proposals for facilities bonds approved in the May 12, 2015 referendum with interest costs ranging from 3.027 to 3.75 percent. The school board awarded the bid to Piper Jaffray, which offered an interest rate of 3.027 percent and structured the deal to save the district over and above the rate.

    The bottom line: Baird and Michael Hoheisel saved the district approximately $13.1 million.

    The voter-approved borrowing amount went from $97.5 million to $90.565 million. Principal and interest that was conservatively estimated at $140.5 million went down to $127.3 million.

    Weisberg’s primary claim that we didn’t get the best possible value for the dollar with BWBR and Baird, like all the litigation, accusations and allegations that have come from 834 Voice, also clearly fails the fact test.

  • Bob Katula

    [REPOSTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE EDITOR]

    Let’s dissect Zis Weisberg’s central theme: “We deserve the best possible value for the dollar, not cronyism.”

    First, the dictionary definition of “cronyism” is “the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, WITHOUT REGARD TO THEIR QUALIFICATIONS” (emphasis added).

    Is Zis claiming that BWBR, the architectural firm, and Baird, the financial services firm, are not qualified to do the work they were contracted to do?

    BWBR is one of the Upper Midwest’s oldest and largest design solutions firms and is consistently ranked in the top five architectural firms in the region. They have been working with the district for more than 20 years going back to Rutherford Elementary and, more recently, the ECFC. In addition to education, BWBR’s regularly handles multi-million dollar projects for the Mayo Clinic and Fortune 500 companies like 3M.

    Baird has been around for more than 95 years, handles $171 billion in assets for clients and has 3,300 employees on three continents. Mike Hoheisel, a managing director at Baird, has been a senior VP specializing in education financing at Northland Securities and is affiliated with the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials, the Minnesota Institute of Public Finance and the Minnesota Rural Education Association.

    Unqualified? Like most of his assertions, Weisberg’s use of cronyism fails the fact test.

    But did we get the best possible value for the dollar with BWBR and Baird?

    BWBR was unanimously approved by the school board 6-0 (Mike Ptacek voted yes) as the architecture firm for the proposed facilities plan. A 1/19/15 Stillwater Gazette article on the vote noted that Kathy Buchholz abstained “due to her husband working for the medical design department of BWBR.”

    BWBR was chosen over two more expensive bids and two less expensive bids. Then-district director of operations Dennis Bloom said “the selection team felt that BWBR was more familiar with our district.” He also said that BWBR had a respected education planner, they were committed to working with local engineers and that the BWBR proposal “showed that they had really studied our long-range facilities plan and were bringing some innovative concepts and ideas. They are going to be able to hit the ground running and work in our tight schedule.”

    BWBR President and CEO Pete Smith certainly had a vested interest in providing the best value because he was a resident of the Stillwater Area School District who said he moved to the area specifically because of the district schools, which his two children attended.

    Working with Baird and Michael Hoheisel, the district was able to secure six proposals for facilities bonds approved in the May 12, 2015 referendum with interest costs ranging from 3.027 to 3.75 percent. The school board awarded the bid to Piper Jaffray, which offered an interest rate of 3.027 percent and structured the deal to save the district over and above the rate.

    The bottom line: Baird and Michael Hoheisel saved the district approximately $13.1 million.
    The voter-approved borrowing amount went from $97.5 million to $90.565 million. Principal and interest that was conservatively estimated at $140.5 million went down to $127.3 million.

    Value is more than a function of cost. It includes quality, expertise, cooperation and going above and beyond expectations. Weisberg’s primary claim that we didn’t get the best possible value for the dollar with BWBR and Baird also clearly fails the fact test.

  • Bob Katula

    Let’s dissect Zis Weisberg’s central theme: “We deserve the best possible value for the dollar, not cronyism.”

    First, Merriam-Webster’s definition of “cronyism” is “the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, WITHOUT REGARD TO THEIR QUALIFICATIONS.”

    Is Zis claiming that BWBR, the architectural firm, and Baird, the financial services firm, are not qualified to do the work they were contracted to do?

    BWBR is one of the Upper Midwest’s oldest and largest design solutions firms and is consistently ranked in the top five architectural firms in the region. They have been working with the district for more than 20 years going back to Rutherford Elementary and, more recently, the ECFC. In addition to education, BWBR regularly handles multi-million dollar projects for the Mayo Clinic and Fortune 500 companies like 3M.

    Baird has been around for more than 95 years, handles $171 billion in assets for clients and has 3,300 employees on three continents. Mike Hoheisel, a managing director at Baird has been a senior VP specializing in education financing at Northland Securities and is affiliated with the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials, the Minnesota Institute of Public Finance and the Minnesota Rural Education Association.

    Unqualified? Like most of his assertions, Weisberg’s use of cronyism fails the fact test.

    But did we get the best possible value for the dollar with BWBR and Baird?

    When BWBR was unanimously approved by the school board 6-0 (a Stillwater Gazette article on January 19, 2015 noted that Kathy Buchholz abstained “due to her husband working for the medical design department of BWBR”) as the architecture firm for the proposed facilities plan, then-district director of operations Dennis Bloom said, “The.”

    BWBR was chosen over two more expensive bids and two less expensive bids. Bloom said “the selection team felt that BWBR was more familiar with our district.” He also said that BWBR had a respected education planner and would be working with local engineers and that the BWBR proposal “showed that they had really studied our long-range facilities plan and were bringing some concepts and ideas. They are going to be able to hit the ground running and work in our tight schedule.”

    Adding even more value to the equation was the fact that BWBR President and CEO Pete Smith was a resident of the Stillwater Area School District who said he moved to the area specifically because of the district schools, which his two children attended.

    Working with Baird and Michael Hoheisel, the district was able to secure six proposals for building bonds with interest costs ranging from 3.027 to 3.75 percent. The school board awarded the bid to Piper Jaffray, which offered an interest rate of 3.027 percent and structured the deal to save the district over and above the rate.

    The bottom line: Baird and Michael Hoheisel saved the district approximately $13.1 million.

    The voter-approved borrowing amount went from $97.5 million to $90.565 million. Principal and interest that was conservatively estimated at $140.5 million went down to $127.3 million.

    Value is about more than cost. Quality, expertise, cooperation, service and going beyond expectations also factor into value. Weisberg’s primary claim that we didn’t get the best possible value for the dollar with BWBR and Baird also clearly fails the fact test.