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School Board members lax on email policy

District 833 School Board members have not followed their own recommended email policy, records show.

School Board members last year wanted to follow a policy recommending that they only communicate by email through district-issued accounts, not personal email accounts.

But a series of board member emails from last month show that a number of them were shuffling between district, personal and work accounts to conduct school business. They cite convenience as the reason.

At least four of the seven board members used multiple email accounts for board business during a week in late December, according to emails requested and reviewed by the Bulletin. Board members Leslee Boyd, Jim Gelbmann, Ron Kath and Marsha Adou all sent or received messages on non-South Washington County Schools accounts.

"That's interesting,"Gelbmann said in an interview. "I thought I was the only one."

That email use came after Gelbmann last year was admonished by colleagues for using a personal email account to send and receive messages dealing with school issues. During a March 2011 workshop, he said he had used two email accounts but would limit use to the district-issued account if colleagues insisted.

"For me it's a convenience issue," Gelbmann said.

The recent email review showed that he continued to use his personal account and an account for his job as deputy secretary of state to schedule school-related meetings and deal with other board-related issues.

So, too, did Kath, who last year told Gelbmann that restricting email communication to the district-issued account would make it easier to retrieve messages for legal purposes. Kath used his district account, personal account and an account at his job at Schwan's during the week in December that coincided with the board's vote to not renew Superintendent Mark Porter's contract. In one email sent to Boyd, Kath used his school account to outline his planned public statement explaining his vote to not renew Porter's contract, then asked that Boyd send any responses to his work account.

Kath said he uses multiple accounts in order to get board-related messages when he's working during the day. His employer blocks the school email site, he said.

Boyd mostly used a district account during the week in December when emails were reviewed, but also used a personal account to send emails to colleagues. One message was sent to Kath and Adou the morning of the Porter contract vote. It was a response to message from Kath and detailed how Boyd, as the board chair, would introduce the issue at the meeting.

Boyd said in an interview that she used her personal account because a computer server was down, prohibiting her from using the district account. She said it was not an attempt to keep discussion of a controversial issue off of her official board email account.

All emails sent among board members are public, though data included in them that is defined as private under state law cannot be viewed by the public.

Boyd said the district email policy is a recommendation, not requirement, from the Minnesota School Boards Association. Sometimes it can be more convenient for board members to use personal or work accounts to handle board business, she said.

Adou primarily used her district account during the period reviewed last month, but used her personal email to communicate with Boyd and Kath about the procedure for the Porter contract vote.

That was after she had emailed Boyd to say that the district still was sending emails to Gelbmann's personal account.

Adou did not return a call to discuss the emails that were reviewed by the Bulletin.

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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