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The Redding School District board’s decision not to publicly announce the resignation of its president at a contentious meeting last week was “an agenda mishap,” the acting president said Monday.
“In hindsight, we should have mentioned it in the beginning,” board member Denise Yergenson said. “I think this is all untreaded water for us; it’s new and different. We didn’t know how to bring it up.”
Yergenson and fellow board members Scott Gordon and Peggy O’Lea learned hours before last week’s meeting that longtime colleague Rein Stolz had submitted his resignation to the district that day, she said.
Stolz’s resignation came amidst controversy concerning his wife, Wanell, 51, who was arrested Aug. 4 on suspicion of embezzling and stealing cash and property from the Sycamore Elementary parent club and school. Wanell Stolz, who was treasurer of the club and librarian at the school from 2004 to 2009, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
After her arrest, Wanell Stolz remained an employee of the district and was beginning work as the Cypress Elementary School librarian when she went on an unpaid leave of absence starting Aug. 12.
At last week’s board meeting, angry parents called for an investigation into the district’s handling of the matter and – unaware of the trustee’s recent action — asked for Rein Stolz’s resignation, calling it a conflict of interest that he remain on the board.
Yergenson said Monday that the board has not been told by the Redding Police Department that any district property was involved in the case pending against Wanell Stolz. The board and district do not have jurisdiction over parent club finances.
“If we hear there’s anything that directly involves the district, we’ll investigate,” she said.
Yergenson said Monday that Rein Stolz had served on the board for more than a decade. “He was an excellent board member,” she said.
Redding resident Frank Covich has known Rein Stolz for more than 15 years. He spoke highly of Stolz’s leadership and devotion to “the children of Redding,” including Covich’s son, Skylar, who is blind. Skylar graduated as the top student at St. Mary’s College last year, and his father gives the Redding School District board much credit for his success.
“I know of his (Rein’s) work with the school board, as they provided decisions to help my son when adaptive equipment or services to help teachers or my son were requested,” Covich said via e-mail. “Rein was always approachable, and he was fair and reasonable. I believe that he has impeccable character and should be honored, not slandered.”
New board members
The Redding School District is accepting applications until 4 p.m. Friday for the position vacated by Stolz. On Monday evening, the board voted to appoint Heather Kelnhofer, a project supervisor for the Smart Business Resource Center in Redding, to fill former trustee Don Wilkin’s seat. Wilkins resigned earlier this summer.
Kelnhofer’s first action was to second a motion to name Gordon as board clerk.
Redding dentist Todd Gandy, whose oldest daughter goes to Cypress, attended Monday’s meeting, as well as last week’s. Gandy said the recent controversy piqued his interest in what the school board does, and he is applying for the open position.
“I think the appearance of how it (the Stolz issue) was handled was suspect. It could have been handled better,” he said. “Some information could have been available. I think unfortunately that made the situation more explosive than it needed to be.
“That’s what got me interested” in running, he said. He noted that his children will be in the Redding School District for many years. “Rather than be someone that complains, I thought I’d try to be more constructive. It’s another good way to get involved.”
Addressing other requests
In addition to requests for Rein Stolz’s resignation and an internal investigation into the district’s handling of criminal allegations against a staff member, speakers last Tuesday also asked the board for the following:
- Reinstatement of Cypress School librarian Sheri McMullin, who is working at Manzanita Elementary this fall; and
- Creation of a district policy that anyone with a pending felony case immediately be placed on administrative leave.
Yergenson said she checked with the district’s attorney but was told it would be illegal – a potential violation of First Amendment rights — to create a blanket policy requiring immediate leave for any employee with a pending criminal investigation.
And she noted that personnel decisions about the library jobs had been made “prior to this coming up.”
“The board has nothing to do with this,” Yergenson said. “We do vote on reduction of staff, but we don’t have anything to do with who gets to go where. That’s driven by union contracts.”
The public sometimes misperceives the board’s power, Yergenson said. “We adopt policy – lots of it driven by the California system – and hire the superintendent and let her do her job,” she said.
Candace L. Brown has been a magazine and newspaper journalist since 1992. She lives in Redding and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.