As the controversial plan to close three elementary schools nears a vote this week, the list of public officials asking Stillwater Area Public Schools to slow down the BOLD proposal and engage in a better process for public feedback is growing.
In the last couple of weeks, the Hugo and Marine on St. Croix city councils each passed resolutions asking the school district to reconsider the timeline, process and community impacts the BOLD proposal will have if it is passed on Thursday, Feb. 11.
The Oak Park Heights City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution asking the district to reset the timeline, properly involve the public in the process and consider the impact the proposal may have on communities and partnerships, among other things.
Here is the proposal the Oak Park Heights City Council will consider for approval on Tuesday night.
StopBoldCold, a group who opposes the BOLD proposal, disagrees with the district’s plan on a variety of levels including the projected savings closing three schools would actually bring the district; the data being presented in support of the district’s plan; the timing of the proposal; the communications around the proposal, district transparency and the overall process, or the lack thereof.
In a few short weeks, the StopBoldCold group has gained more than 2,500 signatures on a petition requesting a “no” vote to the proposal, flooded the school board and district staff with emails, dug into the district’s numbers and data and laid out arguments refuting it, worked on drafting ideas for alternative proposals to BOLD, and in the process, caught the ear of state lawmakers and many locally elected officials across the area.
Opponents say the district passed a $11 million a year levy in 2013 and a $97.5 million bond in 2015 with the understanding — and promise from district administration — that schools would not close.
But Stillwater Area Public Schools Superintendent Denise Pontrelli Pontrelli disputes that, saying the district never promised it wouldn’t close schools.
“When the levy was passed in 2013, we knew we’d have to continue to find efficiencies in the system,” the district’s website reads. “We knew that district leaders would need to find money within the system to pay for Bridge to Excellence and other initiatives – about $1.3 million annually. “We haven’t done that yet.”
Nevertheless, “people feel like this was a bait and switch,” Sen. Karin Housley recently said. “They feel duped.”
Opponents of the plan also feel like they’re not being heard.
“We had a two hour meeting where many questions were asked, but few answers were given,” Sen. Karin Housley and Reps. Bob Dettmer and Kathy Lohmer recently wrote in a letter to the school board. “The sense was that the decision to close these schools had already been made. 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.”
In addition to the valley’s three state representatives, Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski, Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber, Hugo Mayor Tom Weidt, the May Township Board, the Stillwater Township Board, the Marine on St. Croix City Council, the Hugo City Council and Washington County Commissioner Fran Miron, among others, have all asked that the board consider slowing down the process and allow for more public feedback.
“When you work in public service, you work to gain the public trust, and that trust is gained through actions,” Miron told the Stillwater Gazette. “That process, when it is not followed, is a breakdown in trust for all government.”
According to the Stillwater Gazette:
“While (Miron) said he understands it is a difficult decision in front of the ISD 834 school board, Miron fears that not allowing what he considers a proper process for the public to receive information and form their own opinions can alienate people who want to provide input.
“What I hear,” Miron said, “is a cry to extend the process so that people are heard.”
Here is the Marine on St. Croix City Council’s resolution regarding BOLD:
Here is the resolution the Hugo City Council passed regarding the BOLD proposal:
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