A group of parents and residents who live in communities served by Stillwater Area Public Schools plan to bring a lawsuit against the district in an attempt to block a proposal to close three elementary schools.
834 VOICE (VOters Invested in our Children’s Education), a nonprofit organization of Stillwater school district parents and residents announced on Tuesday that it had retained Fritz Knaak as legal counsel and formally notified Stillwater Area Public Schools of its intention to bring a lawsuit against the school district.
Stillwater Area Public Schools did not comment on the threat of litigation.
According to the announcement, Knaak served 834 VOICE’s formal Notice of Claim on the district in a letter to Superintendent Denise Pontrelli on Tuesday afternoon.
“This is a required first step before anyone can take a legal action against a school district,” Knaak said in a prepared statement. “It’s not a lawsuit yet, but the necessary first step in filing one.”
Stillwater Area Public Schools first announced its BOLD proposal during a Board of Education workshop on Dec. 17. The proposal was formally brought before the board on Jan. 7, and three public hearings were held on Jan. 26, 27 and 28.
Stillwater Area Public Schools Superintendent Denise Pontrelli and her leadership team will be recommending at the school board meeting Thursday night (Feb. 11) that the school board delay its vote on the BOLD proposal until March 3.
Thursday’s board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Stillwater Junior High.
Here’s a screenshot of an update on the group’s GoFundMe page, which has received nearly $5,000 in donations in less than a month:
834 VOICE formed to “effectively block the efforts” by the school district to close Marine, Oak Park and Withrow elementary schools, the announcement reads.
“A different plan, one requiring stakeholder engagement, voter input, and transparency, is required to ensure that the best interests of the district are considered, and the best outcome achieved,” the announcement reads. “A lawsuit would be designed to protect everyone in the district from arbitrary, rushed and capricious overreach by the board and district leadership.”
The group’s Notice of Claim alleges the district violated open meeting laws in its efforts to pass the BOLD proposal. The Notice of Claim also alleges the “Board ignored its own evidence and made its decision on the matter without paying attention to its own data and for political expediency.”
A formal vote on the BOLD proposal has not yet occurred. The vote is expected to happen during the next board meeting set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11 at Stillwater Junior High School.
According to 834 VOICE’s announcement:
“Voters feel bullied and deceived. The school district asks for $97.5M in tax dollars, threatens to cut programs if we don’t vote in their favor, promises to spend the money to benefit all of our schools, promises not to close schools, and as soon as they have our votes and our money, they break their promises,” 834 VOICE’s announcement reads. “We never would have approved the recent bond referendum if we knew it meant closing our neighborhood schools. The bond holders should not be pleased that the initial advertised investment has been arbitrarily changed. The community’s response may negatively impact this investment.
“Voters also have a fundamental lack of trust with the new district leaders. They’ve refused to follow through on the prior administration’s obligations. We’ve repeatedly heard too many false and misleading statements, and misinterpretation of demographics. This district has a history of community involvement but we’ve been totally cut out of this process.
834 VOICE acknowledges that there are changes that need to be made, and disparities that need to be addressed in District 834. However, as it stands today, the BOLD Plan includes very risky financial decisions that have not been properly evaluated. There are also questions about both the validity and interpretation of the data included in the plan.”
Stillwater Area Public Schools Superintendent Denise Pontrelli released the following written statement in response to the Notice of Claim:
“The allegations within the claim contain false and misleading statements and allegations. We are confident a suit is completely without merit and we will zealously defend any lawsuit brought forward. This appears to be an attempt by a group to block or stop the school board’s valid and legitimate decision making regarding its public schools.
This claim has not had an impact on the recommendation to delay the vote on the BOLD proposal until March 3. During public hearings and recent parent meetings the community has consistently asked for more time. This three-week delay would allow administration to continue to answer questions and provide more information for community members impacted by the proposed consolidation.
District leaders have heard that people are still unclear about the reasoning for the proposed school consolidation. Should the board agree to delay the decision more information would be shared with the community. Before the March 3 public hearing administration would provide a review of the recommendation to our community to clearly state the need for school consolidation.”
“A delay will only prolong the damage that the uncertainty and stress on our community is already causing,” the statement reads. “We are requesting that the ISD 834 board reject the request for a delay, and vote NO on the BOLD proposal so that our community can heal, and together the parents, the community, and the district can develop a new plan that truly reflects our collective values and vision.”
Here is the full Notice of Claim
- View District 834’s Dec. 17 proposal
- View District 834’s Jan. 11 BOLD proposal
- Watch the Board workshop online
- Watch the BOLD proposal online
- Listen to the Jan. 21 Learning Session
- Stillwater Area Public Schools FAQ web page
- B.O.L.D website
- 834 VOICE website
- Stop B.O.L.D Cold website
- Support for Withrow, Marine & Oak Park Elementary Schools Facebook group
- Contact information for Stillwater Area Public Schools District Administrators
- Contact information for the Stillwater Area Board of Education members
- Minnesota State Legislators Express Concern About Stillwater Area Public Schools ‘BOLD’ Proposal
- Mike Ptacek Shares His Views on Stillwater Area Public School’s BOLD Proposal
- Shelley Pearson Shares Her Thoughts on Education, Discussion Surrounding Stillwater’s BOLD Proposal
- Stillwater Area Public Schools to Present Controversial BOLD Proposal
- Read the Stillwater Gazette’s coverage of BOLD
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