Stillwater Schools Will Investigate a Complaint Filed Against 2 School Board Members

The Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education approved a motion to investigate a complaint filed by a district employee against two Board members during a closed meeting this week.

A complaint was filed against Board Members Sarah Stivland and Mike Ptacek, Stillwater Area Schools Executive Director of Administrative Services Cathy Moen confirmed in an email this week.

Both Stivland and Ptacek have been vocal critics of the School Board’s decision to close three elementary schools.

Stivland was elected to her seat on the Board last November. Ptacek has served on the Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education since November 2008.

“We are not able to provide specifics related to the claim or who it was filed by, as that information is private personnel data,” Moen said. “The status of the complaint is pending investigation.”

At the October 10 meeting the board, in a 4-2 vote — George Hoeppner, Paula O’Loughlin, Tom Lehmann and Jennifer Pelletier in favor, Mike Ptacek and Sarah Stivland dissenting and Shelley Pearson abstaining — decided to investigate the allegations made by the district employee. The board also approved the use of Kristi Hastings of the Pemberton Law group to conduct the investigation.

“The district will be working with [Hastings] to make arrangements to do the investigation,” Moen said. “The exact date it will begin and the cost are not known at this time.”

On October 11, Sarah Stivland posted this statement on her Facebook page:

“The Stillwater Area Public School Board voted on Tuesday in a closed session with four votes in the affirmative to launch an investigation in response to a formal complaint submitted by a district employee against me, board member Sarah Stivland, and also board member Mike Ptacek.

The specifics of the complaint and the name of the employee are protected by MN statute until completion of the investigation and when the concern is resolved.

It is my view that this complaint is completely without merit and is an attempt to harass and intimidate me.

It is clear to me now that we have a divided board, and that there are those who feel that this is an acceptable course of action to take against two sitting board members.

It is very disappointing, as our recent and ongoing work with an outstanding and highly regarded board consultant seemed to be leading to better communication and collaboration within our board.

The decision to expend district funds to investigate these ridiculous claims will inevitably hamper our ability to continue to develop more efficient, effective and transparent processes for our board work.

My values lead me to support and demonstrate honest communication, trustworthy leadership, fiscal responsibility and clear decision making with the goal of creating outstanding learning environments for all students.

The action that this board has now taken does not reflect any of these values, and is detrimental to our board, and to our schools.

Regardless of this investigation, I will continue to use my role as a board member to speak up for transparency and fiscal responsibility in representing taxpayers in this district.”

If you have any questions regarding this matter, I encourage you to contact Kathy Moen, Stillwater Area Public Schools Director of Human Resources. Feel free to leave your comments here or you can also email Board Chair George Hoeppner, or any board member with your thoughts. Thank You!”

  • SCBG

    More garbage emanating from the bowels of the corrupt district at the expense of two upstanding school board members who just happen to disagree with the deceit, corruption, fraudulent & asinine tactics of Hoeppner, O’Laughlin, Lehmann, Pelletier, Hoheisel, Moen, Buccholz, Anderson & Pontrelli. This is nothing short of an obvious panic move on the part of these incompetent & deceitful individuals to further pursue their own financial agendas. Wake the eff up citizens & tax payers, parents & grand parents, teachers & caregivers of District 834. These self serving individuals have NO interest in you or yours – but only themselves. November 2018 cannot come soon enough. My name is Sheaya Geisen & I approved this message.

    • Carl Blondin

      Instead of name-calling, look at the facts. Sarah Stivland has endorsed the defamatory lie that a School District employee wrote a check to her husband on a school district checking account. Stivland then said the facts were evolving. The facts were not evolving, the facts were well established and Stivland knew what they were. Stivland knew the statement was a lie. She repeated the lie. Sarah Stivland knew the employee did nothing wrong, but impugned the reputation of that employee for political gain. Stivland showed callous disregard for the employee’s personal and professional reputation. Because Stivland did so in her capacity as a board member she has exposed the School District to legal liability for defamation. Neither the School District nor Stivland would have a legal defense. The taxpayers will be on the hook for significant monetary damages if the employee sues the District. Very significant damages, both actual and punitive. You may want to name-call and wail because you lost on a political issue, but Sarah Stivland has created a serious legal problem for ISD 834 because of her petulant ego. I do not know if this issue was in the complaint, but it should be because of Stivland’s clearly illegal actions. Perhaps you are indifferent to defamatory lies and financial peril, but as a taxpayer and a person with a moral compass, those do bother me. I do not know what allegations have been made against Mike Ptacek. Prudence dictates an investigation so the truth can be reported. An investigation is the standard procedure followed by well-governed school boards. Again, I have not read the complaint, and I do not know who filed the comaint, but the comments on Sarah Stivland’s political Facebook page from her supporters suggest a person who is known for her intelligence and keeping her ducks in order. If that is the case, one would have to say that things do look bleak indeed for Stivland and Ptacek.

      • SCBG

        Thanks for letting us know who made the complaint against Sarah Stivland, Carl.

        • Carl Blondin

          Again, I do not know who filed the complaint or what it said. I only referred to the speculation on Mrs. Stivland’s political Facebbok page. Thank her supporters. They deserve all the credit.

      • TLTC

        I find myself in the odd situation of agreeing with Mr. Blondin. I think there should be an investigation – a thorough one. That’s the only way we will know the real truth. In order to find out if Ms. Stivland is correct that something may be amiss in the school’s financial department, isn’t it imperative we do a full audit from an outside, independent agency – one who is not just a rubber stamp but who really analyzes the books and transactions? Only then will we know if Ms. Hoheisel has, in fact, been defamed. It certainly does seem in light of the City Pages expose, the KSTP reporting and the new revelations about Ms. Hoheisel’s involvement in the Shakopee School district (in which the superintendent resigned amid financial improprieties) that there does seem to be a basis for looking into this situation in depth.

        • Carl Blondin

          I can tell you right now, Mrs. Stivland is being dishonest. No one from the school District issued a check. All money was disbursed by Piper Jaffrey pursuant to their contract with the School Board. Mrs. Stivland knew her statement that the facts were still being developed was false when she said it. Sarah Stivland lied.

          • Roxie

            Even if Piper Jeffrey was the financial institution the money was disbursed from, someone from the school system would have to initiate it. Piper Jaffrey isn’t going to send money out with out getting approval to do so by the account holder. I work for a large financial institution where I manage accounts of multi-million dollar entities and I can not initiate any sort of transaction when it pertains to money movement. Businesses have a portal they use in which they can initiate their own wires. I know Piper Jeffrey has a very similar portal. All large financial institutions do. These transactions are not initiated by a individual at the financial institution. They are initiated by a employee that has access to the portal.

          • Carl Blondin

            Nothing was done by any employee of the District. Nothing was initiated by anyone from the School District. That is part of the 834 Voice Big Lie. The last action taken by ISD 834 was our school board approving the contract with Piper Jaffrey. After that all actions were taken by Piper Jaffrey.

          • Roxie

            Contract or not, Piper Jaffrey still wouldn’t move the money on behalf of the district.

          • ZWeisberg

            You are correct Roxie. We have copies of the closing documents showing Kristen Hoheisel was the sole district representative at closing authorizing Piper Jaffray to release funds to Baird.

          • Carl Blondin

            Again the Big Lie. Ms. Hoheisel was not present when money was disbursed. All money was disbursed by Piper Jaffrey. The “closing” was the vote by the Board to approve the contract with Piper Jaffrey. After that there was no action taken by District employees to move money. You are completely dishonest in your representation.

          • Roxie

            No “closing” would ever work that way!

          • Carl Blondin

            The “closing ” was the vote by the School Board to approve the contract with Piper Jaffrey. You obviously know zero about debt sales, so please stop cutting things out of whole cloth and spreading malicious lies.

          • Roxie

            I would appreciate you not calling me a liar. Anyone reading what I am writing can see I am not spreading malicious lies. I am telling you how I know the process to be. I have worked with bonds for twenty years contrary to what you say. You don’t even know me. Whether the board approved it or not, there is still someone from the district authorized to sign the official documents period. And, BTW, I haven’t brought up any individual name what so ever in my comments back to you on this thread. You are the one that keeps on bringing a specific name into the conversation. You don’t seem to be able to have a civil conversation if the person you are talking to doesn’t agree with you. Talk about name calling. It is all you do.

          • MNGophers

            Roxie, in this instance, the actual authorization was by the board regardless of whether then someone is delegated to specifically sign for it as a formality. A single person does not “approve” it; it was approved by the board and signing off with a specific signature is done on behalf of the decision of the board.

          • Carl Blondin

            The Big Lie repeated. There are no such documents. All you have is a statement from Piper Jaffrey sent to Ms. Hoheisel in her capacity as a Director of Finance showing the money tbat was raised from the debt sale and how the money was disbursed. Ms. Hoheisel was not present when the bonds were sold. She did not approve or authorize the sale of the bonds. She did not approve or authorize the distribution of proceeds. All that was done by Piper Jaffrey. You owe Ms. Hoheisel an apology for making false, defamatory and malicious statements about her.

          • ZWeisberg

            Are you saying Piper handled the closing and authorized bond proceeds to Baird without Kristen being involved?

          • Carl Blondin

            Yes. First, if you think back to your class on Bonds, Notes & Commercial Paper that you took in medical school, you will recognize that the “closing” was the vote by the Board to approve the contract with Piper Jaffrey to sell the debt. Bond attorneys are really sharp gals and guys who set up the contracts to minimize the possibility of collection attorneys like me from ever being able to make a dime on these deals. In a public debt sale firms such as Piper Jaffrey sell the bonds and then disburse all the proceeds. All the proceeds. The obligor does not control any money until the bond seller hands money over to them. The contracts require the bond seller to disburse all of the money, including fees to financial advisors. That makes sense because it creates economic efficiency and minimizes the possibility of litigation. The terms are set in the contracts. Kristen Hoheisel had zero discretion, and did not approve the disbursal of money. Piper Jaffrey disbursed the money based upon the approval of the School Board. The disbursal of money was controlled by the vote of the Board. No employee of the District had control over any money. You owe Ms. Hoheisel a public apology for spreading false, defamatory and malicious statements about her. Even your attorney, who enjoys complete legal immunity from defamation claims for any statements made in legal pleadings, has not gone as far as you. And he has plead some pretty outrageous things.

          • ZWeisberg

            I want to make sure I understand what your saying—Piper handled the closing, the terms are set in the contracts approved by the board, so Piper disbursed the fees to Baird based on prior board approval, and Kristen’s presence either in person or electronically at closing didn’t occur. Am I quoting you correctly?

          • Carl Blondin

            Like every liar I have ever met, and as a collections attorney I have met more than a few, your story is a constantly moving target. What do you mean by “electronically present?” You will have to forgive me, I was an economics major in college, and every challenge started with a call to “define your terms.” It saves time and narrows the issue. Or in this case, forces you from avoiding the issue. It does not matter where in the universe Kristen Hoheisel was, the question is did she authorize or direct payments to her husband or his firm? The answer to that is an unequivocal no. She had absolutely nothing to do with that. You have been spreading false and defamatory statements, and your continued effort to do so is evidence of malice. You owe Ms. Hoheisel a public apology for making false and defamatory, and now apparently malicious, statements about her. You have been far less than civil towards a hard working, honest, and very valuable public servant.

            We all should be concentrating on the real scandal, that is Sarah Stivland making false, defamatory and malicious statements about a public employee for the advancement of Stivland’s narrow personal political agenda.

          • ZWeisberg

            We requested closing documents from the $97.5 million bond sale. The district provided those documents. When you said we don’t have those documents you were wrong. If you feel the district gave us fraudulent closing documents that’s a different concern. The closing documents were prepared by Baird, not Piper Jaffray as you incorrectly stated. All the participants in the electronic closing are listed. Kristen Hoheisel is listed. You said all the fees had been contractually approved previously by the board. That’s also not true, and you have no evidence to prove otherwise. We have a copy of the contract signed by Tom Lehmann, as chairman of the school board, and Michael Hoheisel, representing RW Baird. The contract was signed about one month prior to the closing. No fee was specified in the contract. When Tom Lehmann was asked in his deposition, “Is there anything in this document that tells me what Baird is supposed to be getting paid for this service?” He answered, “I don’t know.” When asked if he had the authority to sign the contract independent of board approval, Mr. Lehmann said he didn’t know. No other board members could remember either. In fact, no board member had any recollection, or documentation, showing Lehmann had authorization from the board to sign this contract. In a case questioning whether a conflict of interest took place between the district’s Executive Director of Finance and her husband who profited from a district contract, memory loss isn’t an adequate answer. It raises even more suspicion. Why Tom Lehmann, a municipal attorney, signed this contract without a price mechanism is concerning. I doubt they teach this practice in law school. The evidence collected thus far suggests, at best, an irresponsible lack of oversight by administrators and board members to protect the transparent use of public dollars. At worst, the evidence suggests covering up unethical conduct. If you have evidence to show otherwise then present it. Your word isn’t evidence. Denial isn’t evidence. Calling everyone who disagrees with you a “liar” isn’t evidence either. Asking questions about an administrator’s job performance isn’t harassment or malice. It’s our responsibility as engaged citizens. If anyone owes an apology it’s you for your disgraceful bullying behavior at the last board meeting. Some were disturbed enough to call the police. Our district leadership and Ms. Hoheisel should also apologize to our community. They could have avoided all this conflict by being honest and transparent.

          • MNGophers

            My God…you guys really do not get it.

          • Roxie

            I could say the same to you!

          • MNGophers

            But it wouldn’t be valid. Some of us do get it. Hoheisel did not “authorize” the bond. The school board gave permission for the process to issue the bond to ensue.. She was the representative on behalf of the board. Done.

            The schools needed to be closed and it was a long time coming. It’s called population shifts and it happens all the time across the nation as cities change in population. Whether it happened this past year, next year, or the year after is pretty moot as the entire issue was that they were not long for this world. Their performance has zero relevance on the fiscal and logistical need to close them and shift students to other schools. Done.

            3 court cases later and all saying that critics need to move on yet they still don’t. At some point, every one has realized that you can’t get blood from a turnip but critics here think it is still possible.

          • Carl Blondin

            MN Gophers, the first thing you must realize is that if Zis Weisberg told Roxie that the moon was made of green cheese she would refuse to believe otherwise. Not only did Kristen Hoheisel not authorize the payment to RW Baird, she had nothing to do with it. Everything you are hearing from 834 Voice is false. Everything. They cannot even admit that the speaker at the Water Street Inn who Zis Weisberg was assisting made a false and defamatory statement when she said a District employee wrote a check to the employee’s spouse. Just be prepared for more rending of garments, gnashing of teeth, and howling at the moon when the report on the complaints against Stivland and Ptacek comes back. These folks are too pig headed to recognize reality.

          • Roxie

            Really Carl? Your credibility goes out the door when you have to berate someone who doesn’t agree with you. I feel bad for you. I can think on my own. Don’t ever say I am just going by what someone else is saying. It is rude. You don’t know me! Pig headed? Ouch. That is unnecessary.

          • Carl Blondin

            Kristen Hoheisel had nothing to do with the disbursement of money to RW Baird by Piper Jaffrey after the bonds were sold, facts that are well established, yet you insist on spreading the Big Lie that she did. That leaves us with only two options, either you are maliciously making false defamatory statements, or you are exceptionally stubborn and have no regard for the truth. Which is it?

          • Roxie

            What lie am I spreading specificaly? I have only said the process as I know. Not once have I used a specific name. You are the one that keeps using names and keeps cutting me down.

          • Carl Blondin

            You are being too cute by half. Kind of like Zis. You have been insisting that my statements that neither Kristen Hoheisel nor any other District employee disbursed money or approved the disbursal of money to RW Baird are incorrect. Are you now flip-flopping and admitting that I am correct in my statements about the disbursal of money from the bond sale and you were 100 percent wrong? Here are the facts. The speaker who Zis Weisberg assisted at the Water Street Inn made a false and defamatory statement about a District employee. Sarah Stivland praised that false and defamatory statement. Sarah Stivland lied when she said the facts were “evolving” related to what the speaker at the Water Street Inn said. You have seriously misrepresented the mechanics of how the sale of the District’s bonds was conducted, contesting everything I have said in order to impugn the reputation of an honest District employee. Do you agree, yes or no?

          • ZWeisberg

            We requested closing documents from the $97.5 million bond sale. The district provided those documents. When you said we don’t have those documents you were wrong. If you feel the district gave us fraudulent closing documents that’s a different concern. The closing documents were prepared by Baird, not Piper Jaffray as you incorrectly stated. All the participants in the electronic closing are listed. Kristen Hoheisel is listed. You said all the fees had been contractually approved previously by the board. That’s also not true, and you have no evidence to prove otherwise. We have a copy of the contract signed by Tom Lehmann, as chairman of the school board, and Michael Hoheisel, representing RW Baird. The contract was signed about one month prior to the closing. No fee was specified in the contract. When Tom Lehmann was asked in his deposition, “Is there anything in this document that tells me what Baird is supposed to be getting paid for this service?” He answered, “I don’t know.” When asked if he had the authority to sign the contract independent of board approval, Mr. Lehmann said he didn’t know. No other board members could remember either. In fact, no board member had any recollection, or documentation, showing Lehmann had authorization from the board to sign this contract. In a case questioning whether a conflict of interest took place between the district’s Executive Director of Finance and her husband who profited from a district contract, memory loss isn’t an adequate answer. It raises even more suspicion. Why Tom Lehmann, a municipal attorney, signed this contract without a price mechanism is concerning. I doubt they teach this practice in law school. The evidence collected thus far suggests, at best, an irresponsible lack of oversight by administrators and board members to protect the transparent use of public dollars. At worst, the evidence suggests covering up unethical conduct. If you have evidence to show otherwise then present it. Your word isn’t evidence. Denial isn’t evidence. Calling everyone who disagrees with you a “liar” isn’t evidence either. Asking questions about an administrator’s job performance isn’t harassment or malice. It’s our responsibility as engaged citizens. If anyone owes an apology it’s you for your disgraceful bullying behavior at the last board meeting. It was disturbing. Our district leadership and Ms. Hoheisel should also apologize to our community. They could have avoided all this conflict by being honest and transparent.

          • Carl Blondin

            I said that you have no documents that show Kristen Hoheisel was present at what you call the “closing,” because there are no documents showing that Kristen Hoheisel was present at what you refer to as a “closing.” Not even your attorney has made that outlandish claim in your litigation against the District that the documents you possess show that Kristen Hoheisel was present at what you call a “closing.” And 834 Voice is facing dismissal by summary judgment on its conflict of interest claim involving Ms. Hoheisel because you have failed to show any facts to suggest a conflict of interest. Surely, if there was a shred of truth in your allegation Mr. Knaak would have been singing it non-stop at the last motion hearing. He silence on that was noticeable. If RW Baird prepared the documents, then I stand corrected. Kristen Hoheisel did not participate in what you call “the electronic closing.” She was not there physically, metaphysically, electronically, atomically, and she was not conjured up by a shaman. She was not present when Piper Jaffrey sold the bonds to investors, nor when Piper Jaffrey distributed the money from the bond sales to the District, the financial advisor and themselves. She wasn’t there. You just do not understand what you are reading. Or worse, you do understand it and you purposely misrepresent it. Documents were mailed to Ms. Hoheisel in her official capacity, after the sale and disbursal of money, but she was never there. More importantly, she did not hire, compensate, approve the compensation of, or direct or control payment to RW Baird in any way, shape, or form. She never had control, either directly or through people she supervises, over the money that was paid to RW Baird. To suggest so is false and defamatory.

            The original contract between the District and RW Baird mentioned a fee to be determined later by mutual agreement of the parties. That is because the extent of the work was somewhat undefined at that time. At a later date then acting Superintendent Nelson submitted a summation of costs to the Board for approval without itemizing out the RW Baird fees. I have long been a critic of such slipshod practices by former superintendents. If it was up to me everything would be itemized line by line, and the line item budget would be publicly posted in a prominent place on the District website. As you probably know, I was a critic of some of the projects mentioned in the last bond referendum and voted no in the bond referendum because of what I believed to be wasteful spending proposals. I lost, but I got over it and moved on. When will you?

            You have been repeating the false and defamatory statement that a loyal, hard working District employee committed an unethical act. I have trouble believing that a person of your intelligence does not know exactly what he is doing in this case.

            In commercial cases where the scope and amount of work to be performed by a party is undetermined, contracts may state the parties will later agree to a price for services, or even provide that the fee will be determined by a third party based upon submissions to that third party.

            I am not calling people who disagree with me liars. I am calling people who suggest that Kristen Hoheisel had control over money from the bond sale that was paid to her husband’s firm liars. Because they are. Ms. Hoheisel did nothing wrong. She never controlled the money as 834 Voice members have suggested. What is wrong is impugning Ms. Hoheisel’s reputation with what you know to be lies.

            Ah, last Thursday’s board meeting. Let’s review the facts. I hand out a print out which shows someone insulting my intelligence, you saying something that I have not heard before, but appears from my research to be a rude and perhaps even worse thing, and someone making a sexist comment about a female board member. I then take my turn speaking and point out that Director Stivland affirmed and adopted as her own the false and defamatory comment that a District employee wrote a check to her husband without further approval from the board. As I recall you were assisting the speaker who made that false and defamatory comment. Director Stivland, knowing that the accusation against our employee was false, stated, on August 10, 2017, that the facts were “still evolving,” further wrongfully defaming our employee. Director Stivland did not ask questions about an administrator’s job performance. She adopted as her own a false and defamatory statement and then doubled down on it saying the facts were still evolving, at a time when she know all the facts.

            The out of control antics were your mob wailing when I criticized Director Stivland for her wrongful conduct that is endangering the public treasury, and when I handed out copies of the on line postings with insults, dirty language and sexist insults by 834 Voice hangers on, exposing them for who they really are.

            Call the police? What does your mob want me charged with, being a gentleman?

          • ZWeisberg

            Kristen Hoheisel testified in her deposition that Baird’s fee was known. She claimed the $115,000 fee was known as early as February 2015 when the Review and Comment documentation was sent to the Minnesota Department of Education. When asked where in the Review and Comment could someone find that line item, she said only someone with her expertise could identify it. She actually said that. Upon inspection of the Review and Comment, no $115,000 fee for financial advisory services is specified. The only related amount listed is a lump sum of bond issuance costs totaling around $500,000 including underwriting fees, bond counsel fees, financial advisory fees, etc. Ms. Hoheisel testified repeatedly she knew Baird’s fee was $115,000. If the fee was known in February, it should have been clearly specified in the contract signed with Baird 5 months later. This is where her story breaks down. Carl, you theorize the fee was left blank because “the extent of the work was somewhat undefined.” The evidence completely contradicts your statement. Ms. Hoheisel testified the fee was defined back in February 2015. The evidence doesn’t support her testimony.

            It’s certainly possible the district judge may dismiss this case on summary judgement. But, if he does, it won’t be because there’s a lack of evidence. He was focused on the question of standing. The district’s attorney is doing everything he can to make sure the conflict of interest evidence never makes the light of day. It’s a good legal strategy because the evidence supporting the conflict of interest allegations is extensive and damning.

          • Carl Blondin

            You are addressing a complicated time line that confuses me at times. I think it confuses you greatly. Let’s both back up here and look at the time line, and I think things will be more clear. In 2014 the contract with RW Baird was signed by then Board Chair Tom Lehmann specifying fees to be determined by mutual agreement at a later date. I apologize if I was confused or confusing on that date earlier. Can we agree that particular contract was signed in 2014? Then, in early 2015 the extent of the services to be performed by RW Baird was determined. The School Board approved the review and comment to be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education in February 2015. So of course Kristen Hoheisel would know what the number would be at that time. That review and comment had some large number for costs for the bond that would have included the $115,000. It would take a professional like her to dig out the number buried by Tom Nelson. I have long been a critic of a lack of itemization in District finances, you will get no argument from me on that. However, the Board voted to approve the amount. Whether individual board members asked to see an itemization, I cannot answer. Their vote of the review and comment set the fee to RW Barid. It is unfair to impugn Ms. Hoheisel’s ethics. These were actions of Tom Nelson and the elected Board. Thankfully there is a more responsible hand at the helm now with Superintendent Pontrelli and I do not think we will see the sloppiness of previous administrations. Of course Ms. Hoehisel knew the amount of the fee at that time. But she did not approve it or control the money paid to RW Baird as 834 Vocce has alleged. That was Denny Bloom, Tom Nelson and the school board. Tom Nelson presented the fee, unfortunately not itemized, as a cost of the bond to the Board in February 2015, and the Board approved it. That is the legal act that set the fee. Ms. Hoheisel had no input. In July 2015 the Board approved the bid by Piper Jaffrey. That vote was the closing on the debt sale. Again, Ms. Hoheisel did not vote or control in anyway what was done. It is completely unethical to accuse Ms. Hoheisel of any wrongdoing. She was completely out of the loop.

            I do not know if a second document was signed 5 months later or not. It really does not matter. Writings are evidence of contracts. They may or may not be the entire contract. RW Baird may have asked that things be resigned for SEC purposes, that I do not know. What I do know is that a contract was created in 2014, the extent of the work was determined by early 2015, the Board approved the fee to RW Baird when it approved the review and comments in February 2015. A contract was created with Piper Jaffrey in July 2015 when the School Board voted to approve the bid from Piper Jaffrey in which Piper Jaffrey agreed to pay the fees to RW Baird that were determined by the February 2015 vote of the school board.

            That is the evidence we know.

            To suggest that Ms. Hoheisel did something improper is morally unjust. She was out of the loop on determining RW Baird’s fees and paying RW Baird. That is indisputable.

            I too listened to Judge O’Fallon’s questions. I will not venture a guess about what his reasoning will be for his decision on the motion for summary judgment. He may well dismiss on the jurisdictional question (lack of standing), or he may dismiss on the merits because there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Ms. Hoheisel. I think it is likely that he will dismiss all remaining counts and enter judgment for ISD 834. You should be honest too, Ms. Hoheisel is not a party to the lawsuit. That is because there is no possible claim against her for any wrong doing.

            I have heard all kinds of baseless and false claims about Ms. Hoheisel. I have heard all kinds of misrepresentations about the bond sale process. Will anyone from 834 Voice ever take responsibility for the false and defamatory statements and disinformation campaign?

            We should be addressing the substance of the article in the Stillwater Current, that is the vote of the Board to investigate alleged misconduct by Mike Ptacek and Sarah Stivland.

          • Randy Marsh

            I witnessed that meeting and it was the 834Voice malcontents who acted inappropriately, as they have regularly since this began. I understand you have a difficult time seeing the difference, since this is standard operating procedure for this group, but I assure you in civilized society it is unacceptable.

          • Randy Marsh

            834Voice owes a lot of public apologies, Carl.

          • Carl Blondin

            You apparently have zero knowledge of public debt sales. Piper Jaffrey disbursed all the money from the debt sale. All of it. You are just repeating the Big Lie.

          • Roxie

            Who from the district signed for it? I don’t care if Piper Jeffrey disbursed it. Who from the district signed for it? That is all I am asking because Piper Jeffrey can not disburse funds for a customer (which the school district is) with out approval from a authorized person for the district! Don’t call me a lier please. Thanks.

          • Carl Blondin

            Then stop lying. After the contract was executed no one from the District “signed” for “it.” You obviously know zero about how bond sales work so stop making things up. All funds were distributed by Piper Jaffrey pursuant to their contract with ISD 834. The very last action by anyone from ISD 834 did was sign the contract. The bond sale and distribution of proceeds was all done by Piper Jaffrey. No one from ISD 834 participated. You are just part of 834 Voice’s Big Lie campaign. You make up false and defamatory statements and then spread them. You people are exceptionally petulant.

        • Roxie

          I am curious. Does anyone know who chose the lawyer they decided to use? And, how will the information be relayed to the board? I am sorry, but I don’t
          trust the board majority and DP. They jumped right in to the investigation on
          these two board members but didn’t bat an eye when it was brought to their
          attention by many community members that there are conflicts of interest
          all over the place with employees of the district. These conflicts warranted
          the same attention from the board and they have chosen to ignore them.

          • Alex Mundy

            Yes, there are conflicts of interest all over the place! I hear some people’s family members and friends work for Andersen Windows. And the schools use Andersen windows! And some people’s friends and family work for 3M. And the schools use 3M products! And some people’s friends and family work for SuperValu. And the schools get stuff from Cub! And some people’s family and friends work for Kraus-Anderson. And they’ve built stuff for the district! When is this outrageous behavior going to be investigated? Money is going into people’s pockets left and right because of these conflicts! Maybe it’s not being investigated because it’s not illegal.

          • Roxie

            Sadly, I really wish this is all it was and that I could
            agree with you and we could all move on. But, unfortunately, it isn’t. It is so
            sad that there is so much divide in this district and I don’t see it getting
            better anytime soon. In fact, It seems it is only getting worse as the days go on. It
            truly won’t get better until there is a new board. No matter what “side” you
            are on, that is a fact. There is so much anger on both sides of this debate and
            people are just going in circles at this point.

          • Carl Blondin

            You helped create the problem by voting for Sarah Stivland who has knowingly made a false, defamatory and malicious statement about a District employee. The problem with the School Board is that Mike Ptacek and Sarah Stivland are more interested in pandering to extremists than working for the benefit of all ISD 834 students.

          • Randy Marsh

            The side that has lost at every turn is the one that is angry. The rest of us just want to move on and focus on educating children. The 834Voice bullies just want to destroy what’s left of this school district. Isn’t it time to do what’s best for the kids?

          • Carl Blondin

            The school board selected the law firm for the investigation.
            The firm selected is very experienced in these types of investigations and is noted for excellent work. The law firm will prepare and report and give it to the school board. At that time the original complaint, the name of the person who filed the complaint, and the report become public data. There was no “jumping” into an investigation. Strict procedures were followed. This is a serious legal matter.

        • Carl Blondin

          The District has outside audits. Start paying attention.

    • Alex Mundy

      Ms. Geisen, you publicly called Paula O’Loughlin a c*nt. Or was it Denise Pontrelli, or both? I don’t think anyone cares what message you approve. But thanks for representing 834 Voice.

      • SCBG

        Oh good grief. Get over it already. If you are still stewing about that, you have too much time on your hands. Idle hands do the Devil’s work.

        • Alex Mundy

          You may find that kind of profanity and that level of personal attack okay, but decent people find it unacceptable and unforgivable. Owning it doesn’t make you a better person. It makes you worse.

          • SCBG

            I only find it okay when it is applicable truth. Paula’s skin is so thin that she bruises when the wind blows. Find something more constructive to do with your time.

          • Alex Mundy

            For the record then, you think it’s okay to call an overly sensitive woman a c*nt? If the shoe fits, and so on.

          • SCBG

            You catch on quickly. Her sensitivity issues have no place in public office & quite frankly are none of my concern.

          • Alex Mundy

            But your language has a place in public discussion? What about “wake the eff up”? Does that mean what I think it means? Do you kiss your children with that mouth?

          • Carl Blondin

            Let me see if I understand you Ms. Geisen. Paula O’Laughlin silently and patiently listens to baseless ad homien attacks by the partisans from 834 Voice and you call her thin skinned. Sarah Stivland interrupts me when I accurately describe how she has falsely defamed a district employee and placed the public treasury at risk because of her petulant behavior, and you think Stivland has no problems. Am I missing something? Stivland seems to be the one who is thin-skinned.

          • SCBG

            Yes Carl, you are missing something; your brain. Who’s pocket are YOU in? You seem to think that you know an awful lot about the inner workings of the board & admin. Your little rant at the last meeting was cute too. Not unhinged at all……

          • Carl Blondin

            All name-calling, no facts. 834 Voice standard operating procedure. I am in no one’s pocket. I want a civil society without childish name-calling. I want an end to false and defamatory statements made by politicians that put the public treasury at risk. Rant? What did I say that was not 100 percent factually correct? Unhinged? Unhinged was the reaction of the 834 Voicers when I handed out print outs of their on line conversations calling me names. It was hilarious! I am not the one calling people names and defending a politician who is falsely defaming a public employee. What does it say about 834 Voice if its members endorse false and defamatory statements about a public employee and get upset when their childish name-calling is publicly exposed? 834 Voice has been running a classic Soviet-style disinformation campaign from day one and you are part of that effort.

          • SCBG

            Speaking of childish, you sound like my six year old, Carl. ” Mom! So & so called me a name!” Rather than focusing on actual facts of fraud, detection, conflict of interest & personal gains by the board & admin, you defer to people name calling. That soap box is going to sink very quickly in the quicksand that you’ve placed it in. Your antics at the board meeting is not doing your voice any favors, Carl. You should know that simply by what you just typed to me. The public treasury has been at risk FAR longer than any of us had realized. The fact that 834 Voice exposed it is what really pissed off those who benefitted from it.

          • MNGophers

            Sorry SCBG, but one loses all credibility when that type of language is leveled at a public servant simply due to a misinformed belief that there are illegal actions going on. Calling a civil servant that word is completely unnecessary and contributes nothing to any positive action.

          • Carl Blondin

            The only thing 834 Voice has exposed is the petulance of its members.

          • Randy Marsh

            Ms. Geisen is simply one of the most horrible people in the entire St. Croix Valley.

  • Beth Ogren

    It’s about time these two had to face the music. Talk about self-serving, deceitful and fraudulent. Ptacek and Stivland have for months violated ethical and statutory guidelines and ignored their sworn duty to serve the district as a whole. They have chosen to side exclusively with 834 Voice, the organization that has so far failed in every attempt to prove even one of their unsubstantiated allegations against the board and district administration.

    Beyond the complaint that has been filed against them, the unethical behavior of Ptacek and Stivland is in direct violation of 14 policies of the District 834 School Board Governance Process:

    BGP 3.3.1 – “Board member accountability to the entire school district supersedes any loyalty a board member may have to other advocacy or interest groups.” Ptacek and Stivland have publicly voiced their support for 834 Voice, have directly participated in fundraising activities for 834 Voice and continue to publicly vow to advance the narrow 834 Voice agenda regardless of its negative impact on the district as a whole.

    BGP 3.5.5.7 and BGP 4.2.2.8 – “Board member shall protect integrity and promote the positive image of the district and fellow board members.” Ptacek and Stivland have allegedly fed selectively derogatory district information to public media sources and have gone on record as part of an open effort to undermine the district and board.

    BGP 3.5.5.8 – “Private and confidential data must be protected in accordance with Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.” Ptacek and Stivland have allegedly worked with and continue to work with the media to directly disseminate non-public district data.

    BGP 3.6.6.3 – “Deliberate in many voices prior to board action, but govern in one voice representing the district.” Ptacek and Stivland continue to voice discontent with the BOLD vote and the district administration verbally and through social media.

    BGP 3.6.6.4 – “Once board has taken action, board members shall support the official position of the district.” Ptacek and Stivland continue to publically criticize the BOLD plan and district administration.

    BGP 3.6.6.12 – “Board members shall maintain focus on common goals.” Ptacek and Stivland have failed to maintain focus on common goals.

    BGP 4.1.1.2 – “Represent all school district constituents’ interests honestly and equally and fulfill board responsibilities without preference to special interest or partisan groups.” Ptacek and Stivland have publicly demonstrated their support and preference for 834 Voice activities over other constituencies.

    BGP 4.1.1.3 – “Not use board public office for personal gain or publicity and shall avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety.” Ptacek was a featured speaker at what was billed as an 834 Voice event to raise money for legal expenses where he said he was aware of the lawsuits and encouraged 834 Voice to go ahead and “do your thing.” Both Ptacek and Stivland have used commentary on social media and local news platforms in a pattern of using their official standing for publicity and ignoring the impropriety of such behavior.

    BGP 4.1.1.9 – “Take no private action that might compromise the board or Administration and shall respect the privacy of information that is protected under applicable laws.” Ptacek was cited as a central source by a KSTP-TV investigative executive producer in several negative stories with unsubstantiated charges. He also offered his comment in a derogatory City Pages story, “speaking strictly as an individual” about a board arrangement that he must have forgotten that he approved when he criticized it. Stivland has misled the public on the financial state of the district, has knowingly participated in the defamation of a district employee and has divulged private information on social media.

    BGP 4.1.1.12 – “Operate with unity after board action, while retaining the right to seek change to such action through defined processes as defined in the board governance policies and Roberts Rules of Order.” Ptacek and Stivland continue to act in direct conflict with the majority vote.

    BGP 4.2.2.6 – “Criticize privately, praise publicly.” Ptacek and Stivland continue to speak out vocally in the media and via social media against the board and administration, basking in the adulation of their supporters.

    BGP 7.2.2.3 – “Board member has an economic responsibility for the prudent management of public resources.” Ptacek and Stivland have not only failed to support the financially responsible direction chosen by the majority of the board, they have used their public office to support and direct activities that have resulted in hundreds of staff hours being dedicated to overreaching and unreasonable FOIA requests from 834 Voice and KSTP-TV.

    BGP 7.2.2.4 – “Board members have a moral and ethical responsibility to function impartially to assure the greatest good to the greatest number at all times.” Ptacek and Stivland continue to publicly support the narrow agenda of 834 Voice to benefit a distinct minority of students, without regard to the well-being of students across the district.

    • annemoore59

      Wow.

    • ZWeisberg

      This is a preposterous list of opinions, assumptions, and complete falsehoods. You can’t argue facts with someone who doesn’t believe in them. You clearly don’t like board members Ptacek or Stivland. You don’t think they’re doing a good job as board members. Stivland has only been a board member for ten months. They won’t count on your support if they run for re-election. You can ignore the warehouse of actual evidence like deposition testimony and district emails, but you can’t possibly expect the rest of us to take this fraudulent list seriously.

      • Beth Ogren

        No, please argue the facts. Instead of your blanket condemnation of every violation being false and preposterous, pick 7 of the 14 and explain how they’re not true.

        • ZWeisberg

          I’m not going to argue opinions with you. The burden of proof is on you to show actual evidence supporting your allegations. Your premise is so flawed because you’re interpreting board governing policies that almost no one on the board follows. They’ve already admitted such to their current consultant. You hold Sarah and Mike to a standard without applying that same standard to board members you support. This lack of basic fairness makes your argument not credible. But, when you quoted the conflict of interest policy and accused Mike Ptacek of violating it, not Kathy Buchholz or Kristen Hoheisel, you lost all touch with reality. If your belief system really supports such an absurd claim this is a waste of time.

          • Beth Ogren

            I’m not asking you to argue opinions, I’m asking you to argue the facts as they are presented. Each violation is followed by factual evidence, which you can argue to be true or false.

            It’s easy. Just give 14 true or false answers.

            Violation 1: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland have publicly voiced their support for 834 Voice, have directly participated in fundraising activities for 834 Voice and continue to publicly vow to advance the 834 Voice agenda. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

            Violations 2 & 3: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland have allegedly fed selectively derogatory district information to public media sources and have gone on record to undermine the district and board. (See critical articles quoting both board members and read the transcript of an audio recording of Ptacek being referred to as a source by KSTP-TV.)

            Violation 4: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland have allegedly worked with and continue to work with the media to directly disseminate non-public district data. (In addition to evidence of Ptacek providing information to KSTP-TV, Stivland just disseminated non-public data on her Facebook page by divulging information from a closed meeting.)

            Violation 5: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland continue to voice discontent with the BOLD vote and the district administration verbally and through social media. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

            Violation 6: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland continue to publically criticize the BOLD plan and district administration. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

            Violation 7: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland have failed to maintain focus on common goals. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

            Violation 8: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland have publicly demonstrated their support and preference for 834 Voice activities over other constituencies. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

            Violation 9: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland have used their official standing to obtain publicity and promote their support of special interest group 834 Voice. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

            Violation 10: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek was cited as a central source by a KSTP-TV investigative executive producer in several negative stories with unsubstantiated charges. He also offered his comment in a derogatory City Pages story. Stivland has misled the public on the financial state of the district, has knowingly participated in the defamation of a district employee and has divulged private information on social media. (See the public record.)

            Violation 11: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland continue to act in direct conflict of the principle of operating with unity after board action. (See the video of any board meeting.)

            Violation 12: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland continue to speak out vocally in the media and via social media against the board and administration. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

            Violation 13: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland have failed to support the financially responsible direction chosen by the majority of the board and have used their public office to support and/or direct FOIA requests. (See the public record.)

            Violation 14: TRUE or FALSE? Ptacek and Stivland continue to publicly support the agenda of 834 Voice. (See Stivland’s Facebook page, Gazette and Current op-eds, or the video of any board meeting.)

      • Carl Blondin

        You mean warehouse of fantasies. Have you noticed what judges think of your baseless claims and lawsuits?

  • Georgie Seaver

    Perhaps our board is just a microcosm of our District 834 community: very divided on whether or not the three well-loved, high-performing elementary schools should have been closed (and even more divided on the WAY in which these school closures occurred). And perhaps our community is just a microcosm of our greater society, which has become so very divided on so many issues. What happened to civic dialogue? I am so tired of hearing the pro-Voice834 and the anti-Voice834 groups argue back and forth. Clearly, neither is 100 percent right nor wrong. Much is gray. Should the schools have been closed so quickly, with the initial proposal announced to the community just a week before Christmas? NO. Could the Stillwater School District afford to keep such small schools open without making changes? NO. Would there have been another way to accomplish the district’s goals without closing schools? We’ll never know.

    Much of the fault falls to the district for not taking more time to make such a community-dividing decision nor giving the families it serves an opportunity to truly participate in the decision-making process. And I’m sorry so many people continue to attack Paula O’Loughlin, but her overly prepared condescending speech about her childhood on the night of the final vote, which had nothing to do with the impact school closings would have on the community she serves, angered many — simply because it revealed she had made up her mind well before the public hearing and hadn’t listened to what anyone said that night.

    So Voice834 sues the district, and now a district employee fires back and brings charges on the two school board members who weren’t in favor of school closings, both of whom were elected overwhelmingly by the community. What does either hostile act accomplish? It is too bad both groups can’t find a way to sit down together and have a conversation about the best way to serve our students.

    • Carl Blondin

      The reaction of 834 Voice is an example of my number one rule of American Politics: the larger the subsidy, the louder the squealing, when the snout is yanked from the public trough. 834 Voice is primarily a few Withrow and Marine parents (and others whom they have bamboozled) who are upset that the District is no longer spending money to unjustly subsidize economically and academically inefficient schools. Your pathetic ad hominen attack on Paula O’Laughlin betrays your pro-834 Voice sympathies. Director Ptacek has been a shill for special interests since he first took office. Why do you not criticize him? Sure Stivland and Petacek won many votes. So did Nixon. Big deal. 834 Voice is 100 percent wrong. They have done nothing but engage in vicious ad hominen attacks, hide their secret financing, and lie about the facts. They whine about things, but absolutely nothing they have said is true. Absolutely nothing. The 834 Voice lawsuits have failed and are failing because they are based on lies. I think the complaint filed against Ptacek and Stivland will accomplish a great deal. It will expose their actions for all to see. I for one am awaiting the publication of the report. We already know that Director Stivland has falsely impugned the reputation of a District employee. Let’s see what other horrible behavior is exposed.

      • Georgie Seaver

        I haven’t followed the school board as closely as you have, and I’d like to know more. How do we know that “Director Stivland has falsely impugned the reputation of a District employee?” Did she say something publicly at a school board meeting?

        • Carl Blondin

          Yes, she did. In late July, at a public forum at the Water Street Inn, one of the speakers falsely stated that a District employee wrongfully wrote a check drawn on a District checking account to the employee’s spouse. The statement was 100 percent false and defamatory. The allegation is one of felony embezzlement of public property, a very serious crime. The last time I looked this false statement was still on youtube. Director Stivland then, on a social media site, praised all of the speakers, including the one who made false and defamatory statements about the District employee, for the “great information” they presented. I sent Director Stivland an email asking that she retract her statement and support our employee. She did not. All she did was remove the statement. She did not acknowledge that the statement made against our employee was false and defamatory, nor did she defend our employee, or point out that the speaker made a false and defamatory statement.. I brought up the problem at the August 10, 2017 school board meeting. Director Stivland responded saying the facts were still “evolving.” That was a false statement by Director Stivland. Director Stivland knew at that time, and when she posted on social media, that the allegation against our employee was false and defamatory. Director Stivland refused to say that our employee did nothing wrong, instead she further falsely impugned our employee’s personal and professional reputation by falsely stating that the facts were still “evolving.”

          We cannot have a civil society if hard-working honest public employees are falsely accused of illegal acts by politicians playing to their political bases.

          • ZWeisberg

            Georgie Seaver asked: “How do we know that “Director Stivland has falsely impugned the reputation of a District employee? Did she say something publicly at a school board meeting?” You responded, “yes, she did.” You spoke at last week’s school board meeting and publicly claimed that Ms. Stivland has accused Kristen Hoheisel of felony embezzlement. You cannot produce any document or video that proves she ever made any such statement. I was present at the town hall event at the Water Street Inn. No one ever alleged that Ms. Hoheisel was guilty of felony embezzlement. Ms. Hoheisel is being accused of conflict of interest not embezzlement. Show me any sentence in the district complaint that alleges Ms. Hoheisel is being accused of embezzlement. It’s hard to believe an attorney would confuse the two allegations. Ms. Stivland never spoke at the Water Street Inn event. You can’t possibly equate Ms. Stivland praising speakers for providing information with accusing a public employee of felony embezzlement? Unfortunately, it appears that’s exactly what you’re doing. You said this publicly at a board meeting, and your only evidence to support this libelous assertion is a social media statement praising speakers for the information presented. I doubt you have the self-awareness to understand how profoundly your actions have diminished your credibility. You owe Ms. Stivland an apology. Doing so will help resuscitate your badly tarnished reputation.

          • Tony Snark

            “Paging Dr. Hypocrite, Dr. hypocrite…” “Georgie Seaver asked…” Since when do you acknowledge and give credence to people using an alias? Oh that’s right, when they support your argument. Makes perfect sense, carry on.

          • Georgie Seaver

            I don’t know either Zis Weisberg or Carl Blondin, nor do I have anything to do with Voice834. My issue is with the faster-than-the-speed-of-light decision to close schools, which I believe has created the consequences that have divided our community. I completely agree with what Carl Blondin has said about how athletic subsidies (hockey, artificial turf) have impacted our secondary school class sizes and limited our foreign language offerings (although neither is the point of these postings). But I’m still not getting that — if Sarah Stivland supported the idea of community members coming together to hold a town hall forum, in which one of the speakers suggested a potential conflict of interest between the Buchholz’s and the Hoheisel’s — she can then be accused of accusing a district employee of felony embezzlement. Out of curiosity: What did Mike Ptacek do to warrant the complaint being filed against him, as well? I dealt with Mike about some issues way before the BOLD initiative ever took place, and I found him to be genuinely concerned, knowledgeable, a good listener, and supportive of public education.

          • Carl Blondin

            A speaker at a public forum accused a District employee of writing a check drawn on a District bank account to the employee’s spouse. The accusation is one of felony embezzlement of public property. The statement was false and defamatory. Sarah Stivland praised the speaker for the great information the speaker presented. Sarah Stivland later said the facts were “evolving” when the facts were well known that the District employee did nothing wrong or unethical.

            The allegations in the complaint made against both Sarah Stivland and Mike Ptacek are confidential. They will not be made public unless the board decides to take action after the investigation is completed.

            My concern about people making and endorsing false and defamatory statements about District employees predates the complaint made against Directors Stivland and Ptacek. I have no information to support a connection between my concern and the complaint, but based on the decision of the School Board not to allow me to address that issue without consulting their attorney I suspect their is a possible connection. But “possible” is not probable, and we should all be patient for now.

            The actions of 834 Voice and its supporters making mean-spirited, false and defamatory claims against people is what is harming our community. They have been running a Soviet-style disinformation campaign.

          • Bob Katula

            Georgie, you and many others need to educate yourselves about the history behind the school closings. What you call a “faster-than-the-speed-of light” decision was actually driven by a confluence of events over the past 30 years. The history behind BOLD is has been one of ignoring financial realities and taking the path of least resistance. Decisions and non-decisions have been made largely based on political expediency. Most school board majorities and superintendents before Denise Pontrelli chose to steer clear of the hard choices.

            When my family moved to the district in 1993 near Withrow Elementary, the school had “temporary” classrooms in trailers next to the main building. One plan on the table was to combine Marine and Withrow into a 400-500 student school that would be viable for the long term. But the Marine contingent didn’t want that, so a smaller renovation was done at Withrow in 1997.

            The schools started sharing services, like a principal and a custodian, and programs like remedial reading, music and art were cut. That created inequities for students. In my experience, my kids at Withrow were receiving an inferior educational experience compared to schools like Rutherford. The answer for parents was taking out the checkbook and holding constant fundraisers.

            With the consolidation or elimination of programs and services in northern schools in the late 1990s, school closings were formally discussed by the 2003 the Facilities, Land Use and Attendance Boundary Task Force (FLAT). This task force of parents, community members and administration members made recommendations to consolidate and sell some facilities. Those were never implemented by weak-willed superintendents, but affected the dialogue going forward.

            The topic of school closings was part of discussions through many rounds of budget cuts in the past 15 years. When the levy was presented and passed in 2013, there was a proposed cut list that included the possibility of closing one or more elementary schools. At the time, that administration stated on the record: “Some items on this list may need to be acted on to make up for our annual budget shortfall caused by inflation and rising costs or to fund new strategic planning initiatives even if a levy were to be renewed this fall.”

            Eleven years after FLAT, the Long-Range Facilities Planning Committee – again made up of parents, community members and administrators – came up with a plan designed to provide our students with optimal learning environments and to make the necessary changes to ensure our facilities meet their needs.

            Their report to the school board addressed facilities needs into the future and reinforced more than 12 years of analysis and study, which all pointed to the same conclusion: There was a better way to utilize space in central and northern schools, saying “While enrollment is expected to grow in the south, student numbers are projected to decline in the central and northern part of the district. The facility committee recommends balancing enrollment and building capacity district-wide and considering repurposing space.” Still, the board made no recommendation or threat to close schools leading up to the bond vote in May of 2015.

            Enter Denise Pontrelli in July 2015. Superintendents and interim superintendents over the years had avoided school closures by making more budget cuts that increased class sizes and reduced services to students, especially in the north. But after cutting the budget in 10 of the past 15 years leading up to BOLD, there were gaping holes in programming that meant kids were getting a much different educational experience at different schools depending on where they lived.

            Does that seem okay to you? It didn’t seem okay to Pontrelli. So she did what should have been done a long time ago. She made the admittedly difficult call to close three elementary schools to reduce operating expenses and re-balance programming so all kids across the district were getting the same basic educational experience.

            Was BOLD the only way to do it? That depends if you like the band-aid pulled off quickly or slowly. It needed to be done. Could it have been handled better? Yes, like anything ever done by government, it could have been handled better. The only justification needed for the closures is that it was a long-overdue step in hopes of maintaining the district’s tradition of excellence.

          • Georgie Seaver

            Thank you, Bob, for your helpful explanation. But I did not know all of these details, nor did many in the community. I think what you’re suggesting is that, if more District 834 residents had been knowledgeable about all that had been tried to combine these schools, then closing them would have been a no brainer. The reality is that, many in the District 834 community did not share your knowledge, so the eight weeks designated to close these schools (especially the one that had been operating before Minnesota had even been a state!) happened way, way too quickly and in an irresponsible manner.

            Should the entire District 834 community have been more informed? YES. But were they? NO. And is it the responsibility of the entire District 834 community, after hearing a week before Christmas that schools would be closed, to educate themselves? Perhaps. Or should the district have taken a proactive approach and implemented more measures to inform residents, particularly after District 834 just asked these very same residents to approve a very large bond to improve ALL elementary schools? YES,

            But an even better solution would have been for the District to educate voters (not all of us are as bright as you and knew what was going on), solicit feedback, involve the affected communities, and then take action.

            I don’t live in the northern part of our district, but I can’t support the notion of leaving this area completely void of schools, transporting students an hour or more just to go to elementary school, and spending millions of dollars to upgrade the athletic facilities at the high school (and, as Carl Blondin states so well, to provide subsidies to athletes — particularly hockey students — at the expense of large class sizes and limited foreign language offerings at our secondary schools). Bob, it sounds like you knew all of the facts, but many didn’t. I guess I believe the district should have taken more time to educate the community and remove the bandaid much, much more slowly.

          • Bob Katula

            Georgie, I don’t accept “I wasn’t paying attention” as an excuse from my kids, and I don’t accept it as an excuse from adults. If people became “woke” a week before Christmas in 2014, it means they were asleep at the wheel.

            Paying attention is among the very minimum requirements of citizenship, which also include staying informed and voting, especially if you’re going to complain about the results of an election. (Did you know that fewer than 15 percent of yes votes in the bond referendum came from the areas affected by school closures? But somehow everyone in 834 Voice now claims they were lied to, swindled and defrauded.)

            You know who WAS paying attention for years before BOLD (besides me and many other people)? The school board and district administration. That’s because it’s their duty to the public to be financially accountable for the effective, efficient and equitable delivery of high quality education to ALL the school district’s students, not just some families and students who you think are being slighted.

            If you have a problem with the authority of the board to make decisions about district facilities, then we need to change the state constitution, because that’s where the authority lies. And just because you don’t like the result of how they exercise that authority does not mean they’re abusing it or they’re evil lying scumbags or they should be in prison, as various 834 Voice members have suggested lately.

            If you have a problem with no schools in the northern third of the district, I suggest you ask Target, Walmart and Cub why they don’t have stores up there. If you have a problem with long bus rides, talk to anyone who lives in the country and ask them how long their bus rides are. And if you have a problem with the millions of dollars spent to upgrade the athletic facilities at the high school, talk to Mike Ptacek, the head cheerleader on the board for 834 Voice who pushed through those funds over the objection of other board members.

          • Carl Blondin

            Let me make this clear for you Dr. Weisberg.
            1. At the late July public forum at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater, hosted by Jennifer Bye, the speaker whom you were assisting made the false and defamatory statement that a District employee wrote a check drawn on a District bank account to the employee’s spouse without prior approval from the ISD 834 School Board. That statement constitutes an allegation of felony embezzlement of public property. All the elements of the crime are present. That statement was false and defamatory.
            2. Shortly after Sarah Stivland adopted the statement as her own praising the speaker for the great information she presented (she said all the speakers). Ms. Stivland made the comment on social media, not at the Water Steet Inn.
            3. I sent Sarah Stivland an email pointing out that the speaker’s statement was false and defamatory. I asked that she distance herself from the speaker and defend our employee from the false and defamatory statement. Sarah Stivland did not do so.
            4. At the August 10, 2017 school board meeting I criticized Sarah Stivland for praising the speaker, not distancing herself from the speaker and failing to defend our employee from the false and defamatory statement made by the speaker you were assisting. Sarah Stivland stated at that board meeting that the facts were “evolving” when she knew the facts were known, and the facts were that the speaker you were assisting made a false and defamatory statement about a public employee. Sarah Stivland endorsed and adopted as her own a statement accusing a District employee of committing felony embezzlement of public property.
            Those are the facts Dr. Weisberg.

    • Kristie Mack

      I fear that ship sailed a long time ago…regarding sitting down together and talking this out. I’m not going to get into detail, but I do 100% believe that nothing will change until the next election and so that is what I’m going to focus my attention on now.

      • Carl Blondin

        What is the change you want? More irresponsible spendthrifts who want to run 10 elementary buildings at the expense of a quality education for our children?

      • MNGophers

        I have zero confidence that sitting down and talking it out would make any difference as we have a group who refuses to be transparent about its existence that cannot accept that 3 schools had to be closed for long-term fiscal and logistical sustainability. That central gap is what is causing all of this because it is then causing sensationalized attacks to find anything possible to go after those who supported it.

        I get the emotional attachment people can have to schools but you don’t make policies based upon emotion. You make them based upon data and those schools needed to be closed sooner over later. The sooner that groups like Voice 834 accept that reality, and stop trying to go after opponents in order to make themselves feel better, the better off we all are.

  • MNGophers

    Having moved into the area recently, having been an educator and working in education policy, I am deeply troubled by the actions and deceit that 834Voice and their flock have engaged in. At the end of the day, most of the time when there is smoke there is fire, but sometimes that fire actually is simply a campfire for making smores. Time and again, whether here, on their facebook group page, or in other arenas, there is innuendo, rhetoric, and personal attacks against those who approved the necessary closure of these 3 schools (its called economics and population changes), the bond process, the relationship (and lack thereof) that is not the same as actual cronyism, and it never ends. It is literally like they will argue that the sun comes up in the west because they never go ttheir bearings right to begin with.

    Just stop. You lost 3 court cases. You are doing nothing to help with the long-term. It is clear cut that there is no “there” there, and you are giving a terrible perception to the community overall. I am honestly embarrassed at what has unfolded here and I am new to the community. I would love to know who funds 834 Voice since they speak of transparency so much, but I doubt they want the public to actually know who they are in that regard, hence why they chose the type of non-profit that they are where contributors can remain anonymous…

    • Roxie

      I keep thinking back to what happened in the Shakopee district. The community came together and uncovered money being used inappropriately by the “then” Superintendent. If that same community wouldn’t have kept pushing, even against some of the community that asked them to stop already, it would have never been uncovered. Why are people so scared to investigate some of the dealings with the school administration in the Stillwater school district? I would think it could bring people together again because there will either be uncovering’s or there won’t. But, at least people would know the truth and could move on. Clearly, it is appearing to many that this complaint against Sarah and Mike is another way to detour the real issues. And sadly, Sarah and Mike can’t stick up for themselves during the investigation so anyone can say what they want about them. Doesn’t seem quite right to me. But, I guess, who am I other then what people that don’t agree with someone that supports 834Voice call me and that is a person that is part of some dark group, I am a liar, I spread malicious lies, I am a bully. Gosh, my kids think I am a wonderful mom, my husband thinks I am the best wife, my parents are thankful I am their child, my sister thinks of me as her best friend, my brother looks up to his little sister, I have a lot of
      friends, and my dogs act like they haven’t seen me in days when I get home from work. I really don’t think I sound like a bad person. I am not trying to be difficult. I just want to get clarification on items that were brought to the attention of the board and never followed up on. It seems very one sided with them. This is just my observation. I know they have to investigate Sarah and Mike because it is policy when a complaint is brought to the board; however, they have never followed that same procedure when an issue was brought up from anyone who has questioned their dealings. There have been a lot of good questions relating to this board and administration that continue to be ignored. What are people supposed to do? Where can they go to have things investigated if they can’t go to the board? They are being ignored. They are just above the law so the law suits have failed. It doesn’t mean what they were sued for was them being in the up and up. Come on now. I am tired of hearing people say it is just a small group making all the ruckus. That isn’t true. This is just what they want you to believe. If it was just a small group, don’t you think these issues would have faded away? They haven’t because there are so many people who don’t trust these people.

      • MNGophers

        1) It is not “sad” that Sarah and Mike “cannot stick up for themselves” during this investigation. They were the ones who made the mistake of even bringing up a non-public investigation to begin with. They choose to talk about something that is currently non-public information while knowing they cannot say anything specific about it without violating MN statutes on data privacy. There is a reason investigations are private until complete…

        2) If you believe the criminal actions from the Shakopee situation have any bearing here then I have some snow to sell you in February. Shakopee involves a criminal investigation, the FBI, a lack of cooperation with subpoenas from the school district, personal purchases with district funds (which a former principal at East Ridge HS just got convicted of), and potentially criminal kickbacks. Now, if you believe the sky is green, then yes the same variables totally exist with all the innuendo here with Stillwater. Or, if you accept that multiple court cases have shown no “there” there, that multiple audits have found nothing there, and that there is nothing to even bring forward for a criminal investigation, then you understand the sky is indeed blue.

        3) Claiming “they are above the law” because multiple lawsuits have gone no where is what a child says when they are ticked that they got put in timeout and need to make something up to feel better about. What are people supposed to do you ask? Allow the system to carry out it’s duties either through lawsuits (which has occurred and the system has worked) and through elections. If you don’t like it, then vote for different people.

        4) Whether or not the “issues” should have or could have faded away, as you say, is not an easy judgement to make when they continued to be pushed upon by a secretly funded group that is not transparent and is able to give an impression that the “issues” are far larger than what the courts and audits have said is the case.

        5) If you don’t trust them, fine, vote for someone else. But not trusting someone and having a personal beef with them is a far cry from claiming criminal culpability for something that is not there.

        • Roxie

          Like I said, around and around we go.

      • Carl Blondin

        You have repeatedly and purposefully misrepresented what happened with the bond sale. If that does not make you a liar, I do not know what could. Again, you have purposefully and repeatedly made false statements about how money was disbursed at the last bond sale. That is being a liar. The lie is especially malicious because it is designed to falsely impugn the integrity of a financial professional. That is being a bully and a liar. You are spreading malicious lies. Period.

        Sarah Stivland endorsed the false statement that a District employee made out a check to the employee’s spouse from a District bank account. When confronted about that false statement,Sarah Stivland stated the the facts were still evolving. That statement was false. The facts were well known by Sarah Stivland when she made that statement, and the facts are that our employee did no such thing.

        No other board members have been investigated because no one has set out a factual basis for an investigation. All we here from 834 Voice are ad hominen attacks and baseless statements about “corruption” and “lies” with zero evidence of any wrong-doing. I repeat, zero evidence of wrong-doing.

        Simply because you lose in the political process does not mean the other side is corrupt. It means they prevailed.

        The “real” issue is how will very limited financial resources be spent for the education of students in ISD 834. The Board decided that it could not afford to operate 10 elementary schools with almost 1000 empty seats. Excess capacity was closed down. You would prefer that 10 elementary schools be operated. Other people would like to see more money spend on teachers with smaller class sizes for students. It was bricks and mortar versus teachers. The people who want more teachers and smaller class sizes carried the day.

        • Roxie

          It is getting exhausting playing musical chairs with you.

          • Bob Katula

            Roxie, you’d be a lot more credible if your responses consisted of more than an eye-roll.

      • Carl Blondin

        Shakopee has zero to do with Stillwater. Zero. The real issue is how limited tax dollars will be spent. Some people want more teachers and smaller class sizes. 834 Voice wants more buildings and larger class sizes for most students. That is the real issue. 834 Voice is spinning a false narrative. 834 is desperate to spend more money on buildings and less on teachers. Absolutely desperate. They are lying to push their agenda. 834 Voice is falsely impugning the reputation of an honest and hard working public employee. 834 Voice is a dark money 501(c)(4) organization that hides its finances. The public does not know who has financed their litigation. All that information remains hidden. I have not read the complaint against Directors Stivland and Ptacek, and I do not know what the allegations against Mr. Ptacek may be, but Director Stivland has made her own bed supporting false and defamatory allegations against a district employee, and now she will have to sleep in it. When 834 Voice hears answers they do not like they repeat the false narrative that questions are being ignored. What questions? The questions have been answered. 834 Voice is just mad about the answers. 834 Voice’s lawsuits have failed not because anyone is above the law, but because there was no basis in fact or law for any of 834 Voice’s claims. Let me repeat that: there is no basis in fact or law for any of 834 Voice’s claims. I have never said it is a small group. 834 Voice is a mob. A dangerous mob. I am glad that you are a great wife, mother and daughter. I am a strong supporter of family life. But please stop making false statements about the mechanics of the last bond sale. You are only supporting some very nasty people who are intent on impugning the reputation of an honest, hard-working, loyal and very valuable public employee.

  • Tessa

    Simplest way for my kids a.d my time here on out… NO NO and more NO votes from me on anything that pertains to more dollars draining from this district.
    Lost me ten year ago and it keeps getting worse.
    Good luck all.

  • PonyParent

    Sorry I’m late to the game. I agree that once the complaint was formalized, the district had no option but to investigate it. The one thing I’m confused on is that the article indicates the vote was 4-2, with Stivland and Ptacek in the dissent. I know there are many out there that perceive themselves as experts in this subject, so I ask them… If the two board members knew the complaint was about them, wouldn’t participating in casting a vote to dismiss it be the VERY DEFINITION of a “Conflict of Interest?”
    If ever there was a time to abstain, I think this would be it…