Vivian Votava was appointed to the Stillwater Area Schools Board during its meeting Thursday Oct. 7.

Three candidates interviewed for the vacant board position on the Stillwater Area Schools Board of Directors during a special called meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

Using ranked choice voting for all three candidates, five of the six board members ranked Votava as their top choice.

Board member Tina Riehle selected Kelly Bowen as her top choice. The vote in favor of appointing Votava was unanimous. Votava, David Taylor and Kelly Bowen were the three candidates who applied. Votava is a Principal Quality Engineer at DiaSorin; Taylor is an attorney practicing in the Twin Cities. Bowen is a hair stylist.

Votava was out of state so she joined the Tuesday meeting via Zoom.

There is a 30-day waiting period for filing a petition against the appointment. Absent a petition, the board will appoint Votava at the board’s Nov. 18 meeting, and will serve until the district can hold an election in November 2022.

Votava will replace Matt Onken. Citing political divisions, Onken resigned on Sept. 17. Onken was elected to the school board in the November 2020 election for a 4-year term.

While Kelzenberg and Don Hovland both filed for election to the vacancy, Hovland unofficially dropped out of the race although his name will still appear on the ballot. If Kelzenberg is elected, he will take his seat as soon as the results are certified.

Onken’s resignation is the second resignation on the school board in the past few months. Liz Weisberg resigned at the end of a board meeting on July 22. The board interviewed five applicants for that seat and selected Chris Kunze.

Votava’s interview

Votava said at the Tuesday, Oct. 5 meeting that one of the reasons she wants the position is that she cares about improving public schools. She attended public schools herself for her primary education.

“It served me well, and I had amazing teachers,” Votava said. “I’m not stuck on improving just one school — or just one part of the district. I want to see improvements overall for kids and parents.”

She has two children who attended Stillwater schools: One who was in the special ed program and one who was in the regular programs. They went to Lake Elmo Elementary, Oak-Land Middle School and Stillwater High School.

Votava said the three aspects the district needs to work on are third-grade reading, busing in the short and long term, and equity in the district.

“I think the levy (renewal) is really important to pass, but I figure by the time I’m on the board the levy might be passed already,” Votava said. Besides that I think we really need to improve our special ed and our IEP process”

Renewing the district's operating levy and creating new tech levy  will be voted on in the Nov. 2 election.

One thing that struck her was how one of her kids’ Individualized Educational Plan was handled.

Votava was told her son should take a skills class, but what he really needed was someone to go over what his priorities were for 10 minutes twice a week, and also make sure that he was handing in his assignments.

She was told they couldn’t do that because if he was given that, then 200 parents and students would want the same.

“I kind of see it the opposite way: If you know this would help 200 kids and 200 sets of parents I think that’s a reason to figure out how to do something, not the other way around,” Votava said.

To get residents involved in the district who don’t have kids who aren’t enrolled in district schools, she would focus on the fact that they may have relatives who do.

“I think you also have to talk about the various programs that they were involved in and they have loyalty to or interest in,” Votava said, “and also emphasize property values are dependent on the school district and keeping a vibrant community is dependent on the school district.”

She believes students in the district need to work on critical thinking skills and should get more involved in community projects.

As for supporting decisions she disagrees with, Votava said she can often find common ground on most issues.

“So, I’m a pretty flexible thinker. So if somebody has a reason that they are determined on a certain position, and there are people who are a majority in that position, I generally can find positives in whichever solution is presented,” Votava said. “I generally can find ways to work on that solution.”

The three attributes she said that would make her a good board member are: she’s Flexible, creative, willing to listen and willing to change her mind.

A new member votes

Chris Kunze was appointed to the board himself at the start of Thursday’s meeting and he took part in the replacement voting process despite that he could not sit in on Tuesday’s interview.

After the votes were written down, he told the board that he was able to review the applications, read the candidates’ resumes and watched the meeting video.

“Which is why I feel comfortable voting for Matt Onken’s replacement tonight,” Kunze said.

Board chair Bev Petrie thanked the three candidates for applying while board issues have been contentious recently both on the local board and at the national level.

“It might not be the most enticing of volunteer positions to take on,” Petrie said. “I thought they were all good candidates and I’m sorry we had to just choose one.”

Contact Matt DeBow at Matt.DeBow@apgecm.com

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