Stillwater school board fires CFO Kristen Hoheisel
Months after putting her on paid leave, the Stillwater school board fired the director of finance and operations, Kristen Hoheisel, saying in her dismissal letter that she no longer had the board’s trust.
The school board met behind closed doors on September 3 before voting 4-1 to remove Hoheisel. Her last day of work was September 4, a spokesperson confirmed.
The split was preceded by months of tension – a time when some blamed Hoheisel for a $ 5million land deal that failed under her watch, and when Hoheisel herself took legal action against the district president and the Board of Directors alleging whistleblowing, the Open Meetings Act and the Data Breach Practices Act.
A Washington County judge recently heard the district’s arguments to dismiss Hoheisel’s lawsuit and took the case under advisement for 90 days, his attorney, Rolf Fiebiger, said.
The only dissenting vote was cast by board member Jennifer Pelletier, who said Thursday that the majority’s problems with Hoheisel stemmed from their dissatisfaction with a controversial 2016 district reorganization called BOLD (Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover) which aimed to respond to the growth of registrations 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 trial claiming retaliation and a whistleblower,” Pelletier said in a statement.
She added that she was “sick and tired of this board majority’s obsession with dismantling the administration because of past decisions they don’t like.”
Board chair Sarah Stivland defended Hoheisel’s dismissal, saying the relationship had broken down. “It has nothing to do with BOLD,” Stivland said. “I don’t see the logic of this at all.”
In addition to issues with Hoheisel’s style and methods, the board expressed concern over a recent investigation into a bus garage affair she was accused of running.
The board of directors voted in 2018 to purchase $ 5 million land on Lake Elmo for a new bus maintenance facility. Board member Stivland and Mike Ptacek voted against the purchase and Stivland expressed concern about the eventualities.
The deal backfired against the district when the seller failed to build the water and sewer lines as promised, resulting in the district’s license being revoked by Lake Elmo earlier this year. The school district now pays $ 40,000 per month to store the buses at its old site on Stagecoach Trail, as well as additional legal fees related to ongoing negotiations. Stivland said she is still hopeful that the developer, the district and the city will come to an agreement to open the garage in Lake Elmo.
Stivland said Hoheisel failed to brief the entire board of directors on the deal’s closing, which, along with other communication issues, left the board unaware of the extent of the deal. problems which led to the dismissal of Lake Elmo. A detailed report on Hoheisel’s handling of the bus garage deal cannot be made public until his case is resolved, Stivland said.
In her lawsuit 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 lawsuit says the harassment continued until February of this year, shortly before Hoheisel was put on paid administrative leave on March 30.