Stillwater School District Emails Lay Out Final Discussions of School Closings

May 11, 2017 05:05 AM

Internal emails from the Stillwater School District obtained by reporters lay out the final discussions prior to the announcement of the closing of three schools.

The school district has approved the closing of Marine Elementary, Withrow Elementary and Oak Park Elementary at the end of this school year, but emails show another school may have been targeted to close.
In an email dated Dec. 15, 2015, Stillwater School Board Member Shelley Pearson wrote an email to Stillwater Schools Superintendent Denise Pontrelli inquiring about the possibility of closing Andersen Elementary in Bayport.

"I cannot see how closing Andersen can fly politically," Pearson wrote in the email.

The next day Superintendent Pontrelli responded with an email, "I agree that Andersen is political and was really hoping the number would not lead us to that choice. I am meeting with Andersen Corp. on Thursday to share that this is a possibility."

The day Pontrelli mentions her meeting with Andersen Corporation is Thursday, April 17, 2015. Later that evening when Pontrelli announced the proposed closures at a school board meeting, Andersen Elementary was not on the list.

During that meeting, School Board Member Shelley Pearson sent an email to Pontrelli after the announcement was made.

"I am not sure whether you will be at liberty tonight to discuss why the proposal has changed. I have worked the numbers and from my working we can barely make it work by closing Andersen.  How can we close Oak Park, a larger school," she asked in the email.

Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor, spent three years as the White House Chief Counsel on Ethics under President George W. Bush.

"This raises red flags," Painter said.

"Political considerations, the considerations of donors, all of that comes second. The interests of the children has to be number one and that is what I hope the school board considered in this case. The interests of the children in the district," he said.

The Stillwater School District declined our request for an interview, but said its position on why Andersen was not closed was in the district's final report on the closures.

"Andersen is not a viable option for closure because of its location, physical plant space, number of students who walk to school, capture rate of students within its boundaries and projected enrollment and has a larger enrollment than Oak Park," according to the report.

Anderson Windows Corporation also declined an interview request and said it had no record of a meeting to discuss school closures.

The non-profit group, The Partnership Plan, told reporters it received $40,000 from the Anderson Corporation Foundation that was earmarked for the Stillwater School District STEM program.



Jay Kolls

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