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The Stillwater school board voted 5-2 on Thursday to pursue a potential separation agreement with Superintendent Denise Pontrelli.

Board Member Sarah Stivland brought forward the resolution to “enter into exploratory conversation” on possibly buying out the remainder of Pontrelli’s contract, which runs through mid-2021.

Much of the tension between the board and superintendent goes back to her controversial 2016 decision to close three elementary schools and shift students to new schools as a way to accommodate enrollment growth in the south part of the district.

But Board Member Liz Weisberg said at Thursday’s meeting that the resolution wasn’t only about Pontrelli’s role in the school closures.

“I was very hopeful that this administration could work with this board, and I haven’t seen that to be the case,” Weisberg said.

In a statement, Pontrelli said she has no interest in entering into such talks.

“I believe this conversation would only serve to further divide our community, stretch our already stretched resources and create more disruption and change in our system,” she wrote.

Pontrelli’s contract, which was renewed in 2018, runs through June 2021. She is set to receive $192,900 in the 2019-20 school year and $195,800 the following school year.

During the meeting, Stivland said the resolution offers a starting point for addressing divisions in the district. “It’s about a conversation with multiple options,” she said.

The two board members who opposed the resolution, Jennifer Pelletier and Mark Burns, questioned its ambiguity and timing. They asked why it was brought up during a meeting without a forum for public comment.

If Pontrelli is terminated, Pelletier said, the district may have a hard time finding applicants willing to step into the job after years of tension.

According to the resolution, conversations about the potential separation agreement would involve Pontrelli, Board Chairman Mike Ptacek and Stivland, the board’s clerk. Burns said that leaves out the rest of the board and the community. Without input from families in the district, the resolution was premature, he said.

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440