Months after placing her on paid leave, the Stillwater school board has fired finance and operations manager Kristen Hoheisel, saying in its termination letter that she no longer had the board’s trust.
The school board met in closed session on Sept. 3 before voting 4-1 to remove Hoheisel. Her last day of work was Sept. 4, a spokesperson confirmed.
The split was preceded by months of tension — a period when some faulted Hoheisel for a $5 million land deal that faltered on her watch, and when Hoheisel herself filed a lawsuit against the district and board chairwoman alleging whistleblower, open meetings act and data practices act violations.
A Washington County judge recently heard the district’s arguments to dismiss Hoheisel’s lawsuit and has taken the suit under advisement for 90 days, said her attorney, Rolf Fiebiger.
The lone dissenting vote was cast by Board Member Jennifer Pelletier, who said Thursday that the majority’s issues with Hoheisel stem from their unhappiness with a controversial 2016 district reorganization called BOLD (Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover) that aimed to accommodate enrollment growth in the southern part of the district.
“From a practical standpoint I can’t think of anything worse than firing someone in the middle of an active lawsuit that claims retaliation and whistleblower,” Pelletier said in a statement.
She added that she was “sick and tired of this board majority’s obsession with the dismantling of the administration due to past decisions that they don’t like.”
Board Chairwoman Sarah Stivland defended Hoheisel’s firing, saying the relationship had broken down. “It has nothing to do with BOLD,” Stivland said. “I don’t see the logic of that whatsoever.”
In addition to problems with Hoheisel’s style and methods, the board expressed concern about a recent investigation of a bus garage deal that she was charged with handling.
The board voted in 2018 to buy a $5 million piece of Lake Elmo land for a new bus maintenance facility. Stivland and Board Member Mike Ptacek voted against the purchase, and Stivland expressed concern over contingencies.
The deal backfired on the district when the seller didn’t build water and sewer lines as promised, resulting in Lake Elmo’s revocation of the district’s permit earlier this year. The school district is now paying $40,000 a month to store buses at its former site on Stagecoach Trail, and additional legal fees related to ongoing negotiations. Stivland said she remains hopeful that the developer, district and city will come to an agreement to open the garage in Lake Elmo.
Stivland said that Hoheisel failed to notify the full board when the deal was closed, which along with other communication issues, left the board unaware of the extent of problems that led to Lake Elmo’s revocation. A detailed report on Hoheisel’s handling of the bus garage deal can’t be publicly released until her lawsuit is resolved, Stivland said.
In her suit against the district, Hoheisel said she filed a hostile work environment complaint in 2017 alleging gender discrimination and harassment from two board members, including Stivland.
The suit says the harassment continued into February of this year, shortly before Hoheisel was placed on paid administrative leave on March 30.