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Superintendent Denise Pontrelli at the March 7 school board meeting. (Photo by Kim Schneider)

Stillwater Area Public Schools Superintendent Denise Pontrelli alleged a school board member asked her to resign before her June 12 evaluation session.

At the Stillwater school board meeting Thursday, Aug. 8, Pontrelli alleged board member Sarah Stivland asked for “my resignation or a buyout or some type of an option” a week before Pontrelli shared the self evaluation portion of the superintendent evaluation.

Stivland, who was absent from the Aug. 8 meeting, said later over the phone she met individually with Pontrelli prior to her evaluation. She said the conversation pertained to concerns she had about their work relationship and to ask Pontrelli to hold her evaluation in a closed session. 

"I did not ask her to resign...I made it very clear that I was speaking for myself," Stivland said. "It was supposed to be a wake up call."

The topic came up during a discussion about a grant offer from the Lee S. and Dorothy N. Whitson Fund to pay $10,000-$20,000 to facilitate and mediate internal issues between school board members and the superintendent.

At the July 11 board meeting, board member Mark Burns suggested the board hold a closed session with the superintendent, rather than pursue a possible separation agreement. Board Chair Mike Ptacek said Thursday that an informal opinion from the Minnesota Department of Administration Information Policy Analysis Division advised the board they could hold a closed session to discuss the superintendent evaluation, even though the evaluation has been completed.

Ptacek said Pontrelli rejected the request for a closed session, following advice from her legal counsel. 

Board members Tina Riehle and Liz Weisberg said they were disappointed.

“I would be much more inclined to mediation if we were first allowed to have a closed session,” Weisberg said.

Pontrelli responded saying she decided against a closed session because Stivland asked for her resignation before her self evaluation.

“The reason I decided to have the evaluation open was so that the community and everyone would understand what that tool is and that they would be able to ... see the evidence-based work that we’re doing,” Pontrelli said.

A motion to explore and define parameters for potential mediation failed 3-3, with board members Ptacek, Riehle and Weisberg dissenting.

This is a developing story, a full version of which will print in the Friday, Aug. 16 edition of the Gazette.

Contact Kim Schneider at kim.schneider@ecm-inc.com

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