On a 6-1 vote, during a special board meeting on Dec. 23 the Stillwater Area Schools Board of Directors awarded interim superintendent Malinda Lansfeldt a one-year contract that will start at the end of her current term in June 2021.
Board member Tina Riehle was the sole dissenting vote.
In previous meetings board members strongly disagreed on giving Lansfeldt a three-year contract, Jennifer Pelletier, Bev Petrie and Allison Sherman voted against those terms. While board members Mike Ptacek, Sarah Stivland, Tina Riehle and Liz Weisberg voted in favor.
The dissenters stated the board should wait until the three new board members are sworn in next year, January 2021, before making a decision on hiring a superintendent. They also stated that it wasn’t about the candidate, but about the process for hiring a district leader.
Mike Ptacek, board chair Stivland and Pelletier’s terms expire at the end of the year, and they will be replaced by Katie Hockert, Matt Onken and Annie Porbeni on Jan. 7, 2021. Petrie and Sherman were sworn in to the board after winning a special election in November to replace two resigning board members.
The three prior dissenters all voted in favor of hiring Lansfeldt on a new one-year contract. Sherman stated doing so was part of a compromise to award the interim superintendent a permanent post based on more than a contentious 4-3 vote.
The board appeared poised to offer Lansfeldt that 3-year contract on a 4-3 vote at the Dec. 17 meeting, but the interim superintendent declined the offer and asked the board to remove the item from the agenda.
During the Dec. 23 meeting board chair Stivland read a few statements made in a recent evaluation of Lansfeldt to justify awarding her the contract. As board chair, Stivland spearheaded the movement to award Lansfeldt the permanent post.
“Malinda Lansfeldt has led our district during one of the more difficult times that our district has ever experienced,” Stivland said. “She has taken steps to create change that is needed in our district, and we are making progress. She is humble, thoughtful, creative, open, kind, strong, energetic, optimistic and honest.”
The school district is fortunate to “have her leadership during the extraordinarily difficult times,” Stivland said.
The board chair noted the interim superintendent wanted to work with all parties at the table.
“She demonstrates high ethical and moral characteristics,” Stivland said. “Superintendent Lansfeldt has created an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect that has greatly improved with the relationship between the board and the administration.”
Riehle claimed Lansfeldt was bullied into not accepting a three-year contract by the community and incoming board members.
“So the board directs a three-year contract negotiation,” Riehle said. “All attempts made by directors Sherman, Petrie and Pelletier to move it to a one-year term fail. Director Petrie inserted herself into the negotiation room assuring she was not there to — and I’m paraphrasing — to derail the directive.”
But Riehle claimed that’s exactly what happened.
“Director Petrie tried to negotiate a one-year, and put pressure on Ms. Lansfeldt not to accept a three-year (contract),” Riehle said.
Riehle said the about face from Petrie, Sherman and Pelletier was hypocritical.
“This is not an extension, it’s a new contract …,” Riehle said. “Apparently, process doesn’t matter for a new one-year contract.”
Riehle said Lansfeldt has been on an interview for approximately 14 years. She was referring to how long Lansfeldt has served as an administrator for Stillwater Area Public Schools.
“We are lacking some critical thinking skills on this board driven by blind emotion and allegiance,” Riehle said. “What has been proposed is completely incoherent. It was never about process.”
Weisberg agreed with Riehle’s statements, but she still voted in favor of the one-year contract.
Weisberg stated a two-year contract would have been a better compromise, however plans to negotiate a two-year contract failed on a 4-3 vote with Stivland providing the swing “no” vote at the Dec. 17 meeting.
“I’m disappointed we couldn’t get more than a year, and I hope that the sacrifice that superintendent Lansfeldt made pays off …” Weisberg said. “Thank you Malinda, and I’m so sorry you were put in the middle of this mess. It didn’t have to be this way.”
Ptacek state that although he didn’t get his way with a three-year contract or even a two-year term, he would still support hiring Lansfeldt for another year.
“I think we have an unusual opportunity to have an experienced, knowledgeable — particularly knowledgeable with our district — candidate who we’ve got to agree to a second contract,” Ptacek said moments before the board voted on the issue. “To me that’s important. So for those reasons I am going to support the one-year contract, but I also do that with disappointment and a heavy heart.”
Other than Weisberg, no board members directly responded to Riehle’s claims about bullying Lansfeldt into not accepting a longer term contract.
Prior to adjourning the meeting, board chair Stivland and Pelletier read a joint statement of support for the district and for Lansfeldt. The Dec. 23 meeting was their last on the SAPS board. The two have often disagreed on issues facing the district.
“We agree that Superintendent Lansfeldt will continue to work very hard to create established relationships with all of our stakeholders on behalf of our students and families,” Pelletier said.
Pelletier said as the district organizes for passage of a levy and bond, they will support her efforts.
“We also know how critical these times are for our school district,” Stivland continued. “This is a time of uncertainty and stress. We are hopeful that the incoming board of education and the Pony community at large will join us in supporting Superintendent Lansfeldt, and work together to support one another. This would be best for all of us.”