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Gelbmann to resign from South Washington County School Board

District 833 School Board member Jim Gelbmann explains his decision to resign in the middle of his term during a board meeting Thursday. His resignation is effective June 30. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)1 / 2
School Board Chairman Ron Kath (right) and Superintendent Keith Jacobus listen as Jim Gelbmann announced he is stepping down from the District 833 School Board. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)2 / 2

Jim Gelbmann, the longest-serving District 833 School Board member, is resigning.

Gelbmann will step down June 30 after over 18 years on the South Washington County School Board. The other six board members voted to accept the mid-term resignation Thursday at Gelbmann’s request, after his spotty attendance at School Board meetings was going to be the subject of a closed session.

“Questions were raised as to whether or not I was fulfilling my obligations to the citizens of south Washington County,” Gelbmann said. “I thought about it, and I haven’t been fulfilling my duties as a board member. I’ve missed too many meetings. I admit that and I acknowledge that.”

A Woodbury resident whose wife teaches in the district and whose children have gone through the public schools, Gelbmann said his attendance has suffered in part because of a demanding work schedule. He is a Minnesota House committee administrator, where his work often runs late.

Also, Gelbmann said, personal issues required he miss meetings last fall and a health problem -- diabetes -- has increasingly demanded his focus. He said that he once was in a car crash while suffering from a diabetes insulin reaction as he drove home from a late board meeting.

Board members thanked Gelbmann for his service.

“I really respect this decision,” Chairman Ron Kath said. “(You’re putting) your family, your career in front. You’ve put this district in front all the time.”

Averted closed board meeting

Gelbmann confirmed in an interview that his decision to resign came after a closed session had been scheduled for Thursday to address his attendance at board meetings. The preliminary meeting agenda released April 4 included a closed session to consider “allegations against an individual subject to the board’s authority.”

After Gelbmann acknowledged that session was to be about him, Kath said in a separate interview that he had received information about Gelbmann’s attendance and then consulted with the district’s attorney on how to proceed. The closed session was scheduled.

Kath said in the interview he could not discuss the issue further because he did not want to jeopardize the board or say something that is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Gelbmann said information prepared for the closed session noted he had missed roughly 30 percent of board meetings.

Gelbmann said he called Superintendent Keith Jacobus the morning of April 7 to say he would offer his resignation, to avoid discussing his absences in a meeting. The closed session was then removed from the meeting agenda.

Differing views, similar goals

Kath, who sometimes has butted heads with Gelbmann over district policy and leadership, acknowledged their differences but said he respects Gelbmann “wholeheartedly.”

“The end game is to do the best things we think we can do for kids,” Kath said. “Ultimately, that’s the one thing Jim and I agree on.”

Laurie Johnson said she sided with and against Gelbmann on issues and that he challenged her. Outside the board room, however, she said conversations with Gelbmann always are cordial.

“Any conflict or anything like that in our discussions is really what you see here and the rest of it is really a pretty darned good relationship,” she said.

Gelbmann was unapologetic about expressing his opinions and said it is healthy to have dissension on the School Board. He pointed to a recent student busing and school start time decision. Gelbmann requested an alternative to three proposals that had been presented by district administrators. The board ultimately backed that fourth option he sought.

Gelbmann’s candid approach has at times rankled the board, and current and former members have publicly stated their frustration with his submission of opinion columns to the Bulletin, in which he sometimes has expressed his dissenting view even after the board made a decision.

“I say what I think is best for the school district, what’s best for the kids,” Gelbmann said of his style. He encouraged other board members to display a similar “independent streak.”

Gelbmann first won a seat on the School Board in 1995 and is in the middle of his fifth term. His two sons and one of his daughters have graduated from Woodbury High School, and his youngest daughter is a senior at Woodbury. Gelbmann said he has always planned to serve on the board only as long as he has children in the district. When Gelbmann ran for re-election in 2011, he said it would be his final term.

“I really enjoyed the opportunities to serve the citizens of south Washington County,” he said, adding: “I’m going to miss this but I also think this is the best thing for me personally.”

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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