Recent Posts

Local Views: Stillwater School Board Should Focus on Teacher-Student Experience, Not Buildings and Real Estate

Public education is its own unique business, but as a physician, I can’t help but compare it to healthcare. In many ways, education and healthcare are similar.  Students and families are consumers for education services. Patients are consumers for healthcare services. The key element in education is the interaction between teacher and student. In healthcare it’s the provider-patient relationship. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: On ‘Misconduct by Ptacek and Stivland’

Attorney Kristi Hastings, hired to investigate the alleged misconduct of school board members Michael Ptacek and Sarah Stivland, found that Ptacek and Stivland acted in violation of this District’s Respectful Behavior Policy, and Board Governance Process. Dr. Ptacek made a series of public statements about a District employee. Attorney Hastings found that:

1. When asked a question by the press, instead of making a straight-forward and honest statement, Ptacek asked a rhetorical question crafted to cause people to read between the lines and assume that someone (the District employee) had done something improper. 2. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: State of the Stillwater School District

I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past couple of months about the state of our School  District. Where we’ve been, where we are now, and what’s ahead. Our schools have been closed, friendships have been damaged, the community has changed, children and parents have been hurt. The roller coaster that has been our district for the past two years, has changed me personally. I have spoken up and found a voice in me I knew was there, but maybe was hidden for a while. Continue Reading →

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Local Views Counterpoint: ‘Comparing Apples to Oranges’

Dr. Zis Weisberg’s September 18, 2017 opinion piece in the Stillwater Current provides enough tosspottery for a week long seminar on political dishonesty and deception. For now, let’s start with his false claim that something was amiss in Stillwater Area Schools paying its financial advisor, RW Baird, $115,000 for work on a “competitive” sale bond issue, compared to the Sartell (Sartell-St. Stephen) School District paying its financial advisor, PMA, about $10,000 for work on a “negotiated” sale bond issue. The two companies did completely different types and amounts of work on two different types of debt sales. The types of work that must be completed on the two types of sales are not identical. Continue Reading →

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Local Views Counterpoint: ‘We Got Value, Without Cronyism’

Let’s dissect the central theme of Zis Weisberg’s 9/18 Local Views column: “We deserve the best possible value for the dollar, not cronyism.”

First, the dictionary definition of “cronyism” is “the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, WITHOUT REGARD TO THEIR QUALIFICATIONS” (emphasis added). Is Weisberg claiming that BWBR, the architectural firm, and Baird, the financial services firm, are not qualified to do the work they were contracted to do? BWBR is one of the Upper Midwest’s oldest and largest design solutions firms and is consistently ranked in the top five architectural firms in the region. They have been working with the district for more than 20 years going back to Rutherford Elementary and, more recently, the ECFC. In addition to education, BWBR regularly handles multi-million dollar projects for the Mayo Clinic and Fortune 500 companies like 3M. Continue Reading →

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

Who is 834VOICE? According to a letter published in the Stillwater Gazette Aug. 12 by Mr. Blondin, we’re a “dark money group funded by hidden political agents.”

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

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

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Editorial: Stillwater Area School Board, Can We Please Start the Healing Process?

Out of one side of his mouth, the Stillwater Area Public Schools Board Chair says it is time for the district to unify — and to heal — after two years of turmoil over school closings. Out of the other side of his mouth, he says science teachers at the high school who have concerns about overcrowding need to be “cuffed upside the head.”

Last time I checked, “cuffing someone upside the head” rarely leads to healing. For more than a year, I’ve heard calls to action from various members of the board — and our community — to start the healing process. It’s May. The school year will come to a close this month. Continue Reading →

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Local Views — All Kids: What is it About ‘All’ that Makes Us So Uncomfortable?

To be sure, the local school board election has occupied much of the recent bandwidth in our district. Amidst the spaces that harbor and stimulate the cacophony of negativity, there appears to be a heightened sense of urgency from many to simply find a way to allow ourselves to once talk again with one another without fear, judgment or personal attack. In many ways, our district is but a small microcosm of what is playing out on the national stage. Lines have been drawn, sides have been taken and one’s personal armor has been fortified with so many layers that it is difficult to always demonstrate authentic vulnerability and to extend and accept genuine compassion in every space, in every interaction. I know I have fallen short in both the former and the latter. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: When Voting for School Board Candidates, Consider Supporting Those Who Show Up

With less than one week to go before election-day, evaluating candidates for school board has become clearer. The BOLD debate has dominated the election cycle conversation.  But, there are other very important issues to consider. Two candidates, Mike Ptacek and Amy Burback, are incumbents. They have a record. Their prior actions, votes, and positions are well-known, and should be carefully considered when deciding to vote for or against either candidate. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Response to ‘3 Schools Can Stay Open’ Letter

Once again we find ourselves agreeing with some of what Ms. Riehle writes in her latest missive “3 Schools Can Stay Open.”

She notes that “November 8th is a critical day for Stillwater Area Schools.” We agree. As consistent voters are aware, election day is always critical. Whether school board elections or senate and house elections or county commissioner elections, each voter must decide for whom they will vote. In the District 834 school board election, voters will decide who will represent them for the next four years. Unlike Ms. Riehle, we see beyond the single issue of school consolidation to view our candidates and their past experience. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: ‘3 Schools Can Stay Open’

If you haven’t heard, November 8th is a critical day for Stillwater Area Schools. Some voters may not be aware that the closing of Marine, Withrow, and Oak Park elementaries is not a done deal. There are three board seats up for election. If District 834 Voters elect Chad Gamradt, Mike Ptacek and Sarah Stivland, the candidates against the school closures, they will remain open. I have spent many hours interviewing each of these three candidates and I believe Gamradt, Ptacek, and Stivland are our best opportunity to get Stillwater schools on the right path. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Gary Kriesel ‘Represents the People’

Gary Kriesel represents the people. He is always willing to listen. Gary is proud of Washington County and what it has accomplished. Washington County has the lowest tax rate in the seven county area. The County has an economic development plan, a transportation plan and a financial plan that provides a roadmap for the future. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: A Response to ‘Stillwater’s Forgotten Children’

There are a few comments in Tina Riehle’s piece titled “Stillwater’s Forgotten Children” that we can agree with. Allow us to list a few. 1. “We live in a community of intelligent passionate people.” Absolutely. In District 834, which encompasses 18 separate communities, there are numerous intelligent people passionate about education. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Stillwater’s Forgotten Children

The past 10 months have been a very exhausting marathon. Since the decision to go forward with the new BOLD proposal, it’s been a constant adrenal push to get through the endless school board meetings, retreats, past budgets, targeted programming, the Special Ed Report, the Allocation of Resources Report, the A-ROI information, the various consulting companies, school board candidate interviews and forums all while raising a busy young family running to school events, doctor appointments, dance class, soccer, coaching baseball, organizing play dates and running my own business. I have managed to do this and I have educated myself. With my experience of children in this district, I also have some insight. Stillwater is a unique community comprised of various socioeconomic neighborhoods. Continue Reading →

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Letter to the Editor: Re-elect Gary Kriesel to Washington County Board

While public attention has lately focused on national election politics, we need to remember that it is local policy and decision making that make the difference for our communities and quality of life. We are supporting Gary Kriesel for re-election to the Washington County Board. Gary’s work has been instrumental in a number of issues that matter to our communities. We support him for his work on preserving public land along the St. Croix River, the new St. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Keep Politics Out of Contingency Plans for School Boundary Changes

Recently, District administrators proposed contingency boundary changes. This necessary exercise will be a reality if The Minnesota Court of Appeals decides the District illegally closed three schools. Unfortunately, another District proposal is causing controversy. Students and families are having to face the possibility of moving to completely new schools, farther away from their current school, including longer bus rides, and greater hardships on parents whose children participate in after-school activities. Not only does this proposal move students to completely different elementary schools, some of these schools will feed into new middle schools. Continue Reading →

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Talk of the District: ‘Difficult Decisions are Bringing About Positive Changes for Kids’

“What comes easy won’t last. What lasts won’t come easy.” This is one of many similar quotes I’ve run across about change that resonates with me at the start of this new school year. There is no doubt our school district leaders have made some very difficult decisions in the past year. It certainly hasn’t been easy on them, on our staff, or on families and residents in our community. But as the quote suggests, we’re not in the business of making the easy decisions. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Lead in the Water in Stillwater Area Public Schools

To the editor:

If you are a parent, you’ve probably received the dreaded sheet of paper in your child’s backpack: Someone in your child’s classroom has lice. You start feeling a little itchy-stratchy just from reading the headline on the page. The schools send out alerts if there is strep in the class, if police or ambulance are called to the school, if school is going to be closed for weather. Not to mention the multiple fundraising notices. The schools did not send out a notice about something very concerning. Lead in the water at the public schools. 

In 2014, the school district hired a consulting firm, Field Environmental Consulting, to test the lead levels in each of the schools, at each water spout.  They received that report in 2014. They knew that there were schools with lead level in the water at 7 of the schools in the district had water sources with lead in excess of the highest safety threshold set by the Minnesota Department of Health. The district was aware of this is 2014. But no notice was ever sent to parents, families, or staff about the lead in the water of these schools. 

The report does show that no drinking fountains were found to have had lead rates over the threshold, but without notice to parents and staff, were children advised not to fill their water bottles from fountains only? Or were children filling water bottles from sinks in classrooms without anyone knowing the lead levels were well beyond safety limits? Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Examining the ‘Buckets’ of Stillwater Area Public Schools

On July 29, 2016 parents received a Pony Email with a lead story titled, “Stillwater Students Continue to Earn High Marks on State Tests.” The article boasts how “Stillwater students outperformed the state average in all grades and all subjects.”

It’s not until the fourth paragraph do we learn that reading and science scores declined compared to last year. The only thing transparent about the district’s email is the lack of transparency. Why are they benchmarking our district to the state average, and using that standard for their headline? Shouldn’t they benchmark our schools to a higher standard like our own schools’s previous scores; or use an even higher standard like the top 10 percent performing school districts in the state. On August 12, 2016, the Stillwater Gazette had a front page article, “ISD 834 sees gains, losses in MCA scores.” Again, this article states, “overall scores were all above the statewide average.”

Marine Elementary School was singled out. Continue Reading →

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To a Parent from a Parent … I Can Understand Your Disappointment

I heard the news about the Stillwater School Board’s decision and really wanted to reach out to say I’m sorry… this has to be hard for so many families, students and staff… you live in a beautiful area, a community rich in history and activity, with dedicated, hard-working, successful citizens. I can understand your disappointment. While you are considering your options and making plans for your families I want to extend an invitation. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Where Do We Go From Here?

For 12 weeks, many of us have been asking questions about the BOLD proposal. Despite uncovering one factual error after another, on March 3, a majority of School Board members voted to close Withrow, Marine, and Oak Park Elementary Schools. Board members were presented with a detailed document titled, “Findings of Fact: An Evidenced Based Summary Against the BOLD Proposal.”

Most board members didn’t even acknowledge this document; work that represented countless hours of research. To date, not one question raised in the Findings of Fact has been adequately answered by district administrators. On March 3, almost 50 speakers presented serious concerns about how BOLD would negatively affect their children’s education. Continue Reading →

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Editorial: There is No Place for Hate, Threats of Violence and Racism in Our Beloved Valley

Emotions in the valley have been running incredibly high since Stillwater Area Public Schools rolled out a proposal in mid-December to close three elementary schools. Since Dec. 17, the community has become divided — and no one I’ve spoken with disagrees with the fact that we need to heal. However, that will take time. Trust has been broken. Continue Reading →

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Open Letter to the School Board: ‘To Move This Fast is Just Not Wise for Anyone Involved’

My name is Deanne Wessel and my husband Don and I have 7 children, 2 of whom we’ve adopted from Ethiopia. All of our children have attended Stillwater schools, and so far 3 of them have graduated from Stillwater Area High School. I write with one great concern regarding the referendum to close our 3 elementary schools: Withrow, Marine and Oak Park. My concern is the speed at which this new referendum has been pushed through. Although it is good that our new Superintendent Denise Pontrelli comes to us with zeal and a fresh vision, it is wrong that she is pushing her agenda along so fast. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: BOLD Plan Likely to Cause Further Decrease in Enrollment, Loss of Funds

The Stillwater School District BOLD plan proposes to close three high performing smaller elementary schools in order to achieve savings, which will ostensibly be used for improvements elsewhere in the district. Understandably, the plan has fired up a contentious community debate and emotions are flaring. At the core of all this rancor is the difficult circumstance that charter schools can sometimes create for our public schools. In 2004, St. Croix Prep Academy, a charter school, was formed within the Stillwater district boundaries. Continue Reading →

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Open Letter to the Stillwater School Board on BOLD: ‘I’ve Been Quiet Long Enough’

At lunch I happened to catch Superintendent Denise Pontrelli’s MPR interview. If not familiar with the fiasco in the Valley my impression would have been Denise did a nice job – well-spoken and articulate. If one has an even passing understanding of the turmoil this has caused, the segment made your stomach twist in knots. Spin doctoring and answers without specifics is one thing, but complete falsehoods is not acceptable. Two items before a stream of thought:

My family is not impacted. Continue Reading →

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Roland ‘Bud’ Buchman: An Open Letter to the Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education

Some thoughts and questions for each school member:

Much has transpired since May 2015, the time of the bond referendum. As you recall, accompanying the $97,500,000 referendum which passed, was the assertion that no schools would be closed and, furthermore, some of the money would be dedicated to the three schools now considered for closure. Tom Nelson, interim superintendent for this district for the 2014-2015 school year and seasoned superintendent of many years including a previous year as your interim superintendent, worked to help you arrive at the bond proposal. I presume Mr. Nelson’s vast experience and counsel, and your lengthy time to develop the bond proposal, led you to have full confidence in your request to the community and your assertions in support of it. Now, after a few months into the new school year, the BOLD plan purports to close three schools, contrary to your, the school board’s, public declaration made nine months ago. Continue Reading →

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ProBOLD Outcry Over Business List

Because there have been questions from both sides about the “Stop Bold Cold Business Supporter List,” which I initiated, organized and managed for about 2 weeks in February, I want to offer an explanation. The List:

I was shocked when I learned of the BOLD proposal this January. It seemed to defy all logic as a way to improve anything in our schools or our community. Closing 3 schools and building one because of declining/increasing enrollment? The schools slated to close have increased enrollment, so…? Continue Reading →

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Dear BOLD Supporters: This is Why I’m So Passionate About Opposing this Proposal

Dear Pro-BOLD supporters,

As a parent who isn’t directly impacted by the closing of these schools (as my son will be moving to the middle school before these closings take place) I’ve had many people ask me why I’m so passionate about opposing this proposal. I encourage you to read further in hopes that some of these reasons may cause you to reflect on your position on BOLD and at a minimum agree to respectfully disagree. Of course my true desire is for you to feel compassion toward those students, teachers, parents and communities impacted by this proposal, but let’s just start with an open mind. Here’s a few of the reasons why I don’t support BOLD:

1. As a tax payer I was marketed to and sold on statements that if I supported the bond and levy that it would result in no schools being closed. Continue Reading →

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Letter to the Editor: Stillwater BOLD


Thank you for listening to both district administrators and community members. I can understand the dilemma you must face: On the one hand, BOLD’s promise to save $1.26 million annually would benefit our district’s chronic budget shortfalls, and closing small schools where few students live may allow educational resources to be allocated elsewhere. But on the other hand, are we a district that makes major, community-impacting decisions in such a short amount of time without involving or engaging the support of our constituents? I find this question troubling. Regardless of whether BOLD may benefit budgets or students, there are far greater matters at stake: the district’s partnerships with other governmental entities and the public’s trust. Continue Reading →

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Opinion: Stillwater Area School District’s BOLD Plan Won’t Solve District Problems

When I first heard the BOLD proposal to close three of Stillwater School District’s best schools, I wanted to understand the goals and how the plan would achieve them. However, the more I listened, read and researched, the more confused I have become. If this is a declining population issue, then why are we building a new elementary school? We just need to adjust the boundaries northward. Why are we adding on to our high school if we wont have the students to fill it? Continue Reading →

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Opinion: Table BOLD

District 834 Board Members,

I am writing you as a resident of District 834 with over 50 years of board experience. I am an elected Stillwater Town Board Supervisor. Board members of any board have an overarching responsibility to be fiduciary agents of the organization. All decisions must be viewed through a financial viability prism. The BOLD proposal may or may not be the correct decision for District 834. Continue Reading →

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