Another Stillwater school board member resigns, citing political divisions in community

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Sep. 17—Citing the current political divide in the Stillwater community, Stillwater Area Board of Education Member Matt Onken announced Thursday that he is resigning from the school board.

Onken, who was elected in November, wrote in a statement that the political divide in the district "is beginning to impact my physical and mental health, as well as my work and home life." His resignation is effective Friday.

Onken is the fourth school board member to resign during the past 14 months. Liz Weisberg resigned at the end of July, citing an opportunity to train to become a reading tutor. Shelley Pearson and Mark Burns resigned in July 2020.

Onken, an educational coordinator for the Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District, said being on the school board has meant he has not been able to give his students 100 percent lately "as (his) mind is on other things."

"I take no pride in this decision and may be considered cowardly for doing it, but it is the right decision for me right now," he wrote. "When I campaigned for this position, I felt I could bring some calm to board meetings. I like to think of myself as a reasonable and rational person who is willing to listen and discuss viewpoints regardless of the final decision or vote. I am not a politician and never want to be. However, I find the current situation untenable. Our community is a microcosm of our national political scene where misinformation looms, trust comes at a premium, and people use whatever information they want to fit their narrative. It is unfortunate, but there is a very vocal minority that is no longer interested in the idea of 'we' and only interested in the idea of 'me.'"

Onken said he has almost walked out of school board meetings and finds himself struggling to maintain his composure.

"I am very confident in the votes that I have made and do not regret any of them, but I often spend hours after meetings rethinking my choices, as I am a pleaser and want to meet everyone's needs," he wrote.

Although he is resigning, Onken said he would continue to support two upcoming 10-year tax levy proposals that are on the November ballot.

In addition to a $390-per-pupil increase to its operating levy, the board will ask voters to approve a new $4.7 million capital project levy to upgrade the district's classroom technology, beef up its network security and ensure every student and teacher has their own electronic device.

"I will do everything I can to support our upcoming levy in the next few weeks, as I do believe in the importance of public education and I believe in Stillwater Area Schools," he wrote.

School board chairwoman Bev Petrie said the school board is expected to accept Onken's resignation next week. His replacement on the board will be appointed until the 2022 election; the appointment process is expected to take about six weeks, she said.

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