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Pine City School Board Approves Separation Agreement with Superintendent Foley

It was another night of difficult conversations for the Pine City School Board after they approved a separation agreement, releasing now-former Superintendent Paula Foley from the remainder of her contract, during a special meeting held on Friday, May 6.

Foley's contract with the school district was originally supposed to end on June 30 after declining an extended contract earlier this year.

From the beginning of the discussion, Board member Becci Palmblade commented that she felt caught off guard by the process, which resulted in vocal frustration from community members in attendance who were upset with the fact that there was no open forum available for them during the meeting.

Board member Lezlie Sauter sympathized with Palmblade's sentiments saying, "I've worked with boards my entire career.... I get it. This doesn't feel good." She then called for better communication because she felt unprepared for the meeting. "I'm coming here with probably as many questions as the audience, and I felt the need to voice that concern here."

The separation agreement was approved in a vote of 5 to 1 with Palmblade being the lone no vote.

In the terms of the separation agreement, Foley will be put on a paid leave of absence through the end of her contract and receive compensation for her remaining 18 days of vacation. According to the school board, she will receive an estimated $30,000 from the payout of the remaining contract.

Foley is currently one of four finalists for a Superintendent position with Rocori School District.

Foley's employment status with the Pine City School District has been a point of contention over the past few months for both the public and the board. Recently, a petition appeared online calling for a vote of no confidence against four school board members. As of writing this article, the petition had garnered over 450 signatures.

Who would take the helm and run the district until a permanent replacement is found was also a weighty discussion.

Board Chair Dan Peterson announced that he had asked Director of Pine City Early Childhood Education (ECFE) Cindy Stolp to take on the role as Interim Superintendent. Stolp previously applied for the Pine City Superintendent Position and was a finalist when the district selected Foley.

The announcement was met with protest from board members and the audience since the whole board did not discuss the idea as a whole.

Peterson defended his decision saying that it is part of the role of having a school board chair.

Concerns over staff burnout because of the hole created from Stolp becoming Superintendent were raised by Sauter.

"I understand. I've heard from plenty of staff as to where we are at," Peterson said in response to Sauter. "I think this a road to improving that as we go into the process of selecting a new superintendent. We also have to go through the process of selecting a new business manager and other office staff, so that is something we all have to work with in the next couple months."

Peterson continued to bear the brunt of questions from both Palmblade and Sauter over onboarding for Stolp and the future Superintendent. Many of those questions centered around making sure there is clear communication so staff can succeed.

"I'm not accusing us of making them fail at all. I've just watched for five months. I've felt unheard at times, disconnected, and as board member I don't know how I can help if we aren't all at the table discussing it," Sauter said.

Peterson responded by stating Stolp's history with the district and as the Director of ECFE provides her a solid start in the Interim Superintendent position.

"I think that is one of the advantages of having this interim available to step in. She is in the district. She is the director of this program. She understands the goals the district, so a lot that will be automatic for her. It will be much simpler than someone coming in from outside."

Board member Candice Ames suggested letting Stolp determine the amount of support she wants from the board. Otherwise, she has access to the administrators within the school district to provide direction when she needs it.

The motion to offer the interim position to Stolp was approved unanimously.

If she accepts, Stolp will start as Pine City's Interim Superintendent Monday morning. She would then serve through June 30 when a permanent replacement would assume the role.

According to a timeline sent out by the district, Superintendent candidate selection and interviews have been scheduled to take place in the second half of this month and the beginning of June.

A tentative start date for the new candidate would be July 1.

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