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Gelbmann resigning from District 833 School Board

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

Gelbmann announced Thursday he will step down June 30 after over 18 years on the board overseeing South Washington County Schools. The other six board members voted to accept the resignation after Gelbmann requested that it be added to the meeting agenda.

A Woodbury resident whose wife teaches in the district and whose children have gone through the public schools, Gelbmann acknowledged that his attendance at School Board meetings has suffered, particularly in the past one or two years. He attributed that in part to a demanding work schedule. Gelbmann is a Minnesota House committee administrator, where his work often runs late.

“I thought about it and I haven’t been fulfilling my duties as a board member,” Gelbmann said. He said in a later interview that he was given information showing he had missed about 30 percent of meetings.

Also, Gelbmann said, he has personal issues that required he miss meetings last fall and a health problem –- diabetes -- that 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 board meeting.

Other board members thanked Gelbmann for his service to the district and said they respected his decision to step away.

School Board Chairman Ron Kath, who sometimes has butted heads with Gelbmann over district policy and leadership, said the decision was admirable.

Kath also acknowledged their differences.

“You have challenged me in ways that I’ve never been challenged before, and I mean that as a compliment,” Kath said.

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 board members have publicly stated their frustration with his occasional submission of opinion columns to the Bulletin, in which he sometimes has expressed his dissenting view 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.

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 he 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.”

Kath said the board would discuss how to fill Gelbmann’s seat.

The last time a board member resigned mid-term -- Leslee Boyd -- the seat was filled by appointment until the next regular election.

The next School Board election is 2015.

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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