Updated: April 09, 2020 10:24 PM
Created: April 09, 2020 06:46 PM
The Stillwater Area School District has hired an attorney and a forensic accounting firm to look into details surrounding the purchase agreement on a $5 million land acquisition for the district's new bus garage facility.
In early 2018, the Stillwater School Board voted to approve a $5 million purchase agreement to buy 11 acres of land for the district's new bus garage facility.
But the purchase agreement was amended twice after the initial purchase agreement was approved by the superintendent, and two former chairs of the school board and the district's Executive Director of Finance and Operations, Kristen Hoheisel, closed on the deal with the developer Oct. 23, 2018.
However, a majority of the Stillwater School Board says it never saw those two amendments to the original purchase agreement, never had a public hearing on them and never voted on them.
The district spent another $2 million on land improvements at the bus garage site, and the purchase agreement required the developer to hook up sewer and water lines to the facility.
Those sewer and water lines still have not been connected to the site, and a majority of the school board believes the purchase agreement could have been withdrawn before the two amendments were approved without school board knowledge or consent because the developer had not met the deadlines for hooking up sewer and water lines.
Now some parents, like Kristie Mack, are concerned the bus garage will be closed down for not meeting city code and become a $7 million boondoggle.
"I really don't have any confidence in the school district with our money," Mack said. "And, that is really hard for me to say and it is sad to say it because I grew up in this school district."
The Stillwater School District administration declined an interview request because it is now an open investigation, but a district spokesperson did issue a brief statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
"The same protocols were followed that have been used in past real estate transactions," the spokesperson said. "The school board approved the purchase agreement and closings have not been approved separately."
The school board voted to place a top administrator on paid leave in March but didn't publicly disclose who the employee was, citing private personnel laws.
However, multiple sources told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that Hoheisel, the district's top financier, is the employee on paid leave. Several attempts to reach Hoheisel for comment were unsuccessful.
A letter from nearly 200 school district teachers and staff members was sent to the school board criticizing the vote to place a top administrator on paid leave during the COVID-19 crisis.
The school board chairperson declined an interview request because there is an open investigation but did tell KSTP the district hoped to have the investigative audit completed within the next couple of months.
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