A vacancy in the top position in Stillwater Area Public Schools has caused the school board to quickly look for a temporary replacement.

The board met for a special meeting Tuesday, June 23 to discuss hiring an interim superintendent to replace outgoing superintendent Denise Pontrelli. Pontrelli and the school board reached a separation agreement during the June 11 board meeting, and her last day will be July 1.

According to state statute, a school district must have a superintendent in place at the start of the school fiscal year, which is July 1. In order to met this requirement for the upcoming school year, the board intends to seek an internal candidate to fill the gap.

During the June 23 meeting, the board discussed hiring Afton-Lakeland Elementary’s principal, Malinda Lansfeldt, as the interim superintendent. Lansfeldt has served as a principal in the district as many locations and has knowledge of the challenges the upcoming school year, said board chair Sarah Stivland. Lansfeldt also holds a superintendent’s license, said Executive Director of Administrative Services Cathy Moen, which is a certification that not many in the district hold.

Stivland said that she initially hoped that the board would have hired an assistant superintendent to replace Dr. Bob McDowell, who would be able to cover the duties of superintendent until a permanent candidate was found. The board is currently still in the hiring process for that position.

The board discussed offering Lansfeldt the position of interim superintendent for a term of one year, or when the board hire a permanent superintendent, which ever comes first. Lansfeldt indicated that she intended to return to her position as principal at Afton-Lakeland Elementary when a permanent candidate was found.

Several board members questions the process on finding an interim candidate, saying that they only heard about the plan to hire Lansfeldt about two hours before the meeting.

“It’s not ideal,” Stivland said. “We are in a situation where time is really tight.”

Board member Jennifer Pelletier said she was concerned that removing Lansfeldt from the elementary school would cause disruption for the staff and students, citing the uncertainty with distance learning in the fall.

“I don’t have anything against the candidate,” said board member Mark Burns. “This [appointment] could be for up to a year, and important decisions will be made during that time.”

“On July 1, we have to have someone in that position,” said board member Shelley Pearson. “That is a week away.”

Stivland said that during discussions with potential superintendent search firms, the process to find a permanent replacement could take four to six months. Moen warned that hiring a superintendent in the middle of a school year would be challenging, as many superintendent would not look to leave a position in the middle of a contract.

“We would be in a better position if you hired a person for a year,” Moen said.

Moen also had concerns about staffing the principal position that Lansfeldt now hold if the term was not for a full year.

The board voted 4-3 — with Stivland, board members Tina Riehle and Liz Weisberg dissenting — to move the vote to hire Lansfeldt until the regular scheduled June 25 board meeting. The board will hold another special meeting next week to approve a negotiated contract.

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com

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