Stillwater Area School Board votes to cut ties with embattled superintendent

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Even though it's summer, a crowd of students, staff, teachers and parents organized a rally outside Stillwater High School along Highway 15 on Thursday.

People gathered out by the sign on the edge of the campus because they couldn't be in the Stillwater Area School Board meeting. Due to COVID-19, the meeting was held electronically and livestreamed on YouTube.

Demonstrators listened to the meeting over a loudspeaker as they stood outside and held signs, rang bells and showed their support for Superintendent Denise Pontrelli. She has led the district for the past five years and at times has been at odds with the board over school boundaries, handling student growth, the closure of three elementary schools and building a bus garage.

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Last summer, the board tried and failed to cut ties with Pontrelli. Thursday, board members tried again during the online meeting. 

During the open forum, 15 speakers were permitted to call in and share their opinions. Roughly half praised Pontrelli, while the other half criticized her tenure and supported a separation agreement.

More than three hours into the meeting, the board members voted 5-2 to cut ties with Pontrelli.

There is one year left on Pontrelli's deal. The buyout will cost nearly half a million dollars, and the district will now need to find an interim superintendent.

After the vote passed, Chair Sarah Stivland read a joint statement that was agreed upon between Pontrelli and the school board:

"After staying with Stillwater Area Schools for five years, Denise Pontrelli has agreed to a separation agreement with the Stillwater Area School Board. Superintendent Pontrelli wishes to extend her gratitude to the students, staff and community for their partnership to create and improve learning systems for all. The district expresses its gratitude to her and to her leadership for the past five years."