Minnesota State Legislators Express Concern About Stillwater Area Public Schools ‘BOLD’ Proposal

Three Minnesota state legislators who represent the Stillwater area have penned a letter to the Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education expressing extreme concern over Superintendent Denise Pontrelli’s BOLD proposal.

Here is the letter co-written by Sen. Karin Housley, and Reps. Kathy Lohmer and Bob Dettmer:

District 834 School Board Members,

We are writing to clarify our positions as members of the Minnesota State Legislature in regards to the BOLD initiative, and specifically the plan to close three elementary schools in District 834.

First, we would like to thank Stillwater School Board Member Kathy Buchholz for arranging the meeting last Friday with Superintendent Pontrelli. We had previously not had the opportunity to meet the new superintendent, nor had we had a chance to discuss anything in regards to our district. Our first introduction to the BOLD initiative came in the form of emails from concerned constituents.

After meeting with several STOP BOLD COLD parents, Representative Lohmer called Board Member Buchholz to ask some questions and determine if there could be a meeting between legislators and the superintendent. We met on January 8, and Buchholz was the only school board member present.

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.

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.

Our concerns revolve around the many unanswered questions. These include:

  • The cost of transportation for the students attending Withrow and Marine;
  • The costs associated with those parents and their children opting out of Stillwater Schools through open enrollment;
  • The timing – one week before Christmas – to alert parents of three schools closing with a vote on February 11;
  • The new school board policy that does not allow parents to speak and address board members, but only gives them opportunities through separate listening sessions;
  • The process of making a decision before the new boundary lines are drawn; and class sizes are determined for the schools that remain open;
  • The list goes on and on.

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.

An individual school is not only a tremendous benefit to a neighborhood but to the community as well. Before the decision is made to close three of them we would strongly encourage extending this process and creating a broader timeline that would allow the voices of Stillwater residents to be heard before a final decision is made.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and for giving our request consideration.

Sincerely,

Sen. Karin Housley, 39

Rep. Bob Dettmer, 39A

Rep. Kathy Lohmer, 39B

CC: District 834 School Board Members

January 14, 2016

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