Citing irreconcilable scheduling conflicts, a longtime board member for the South Washington County school district has resigned.
Jim Gelbmann, the longest tenured member of the District 833 school board, announced his decision at the board’s April 10 meeting. Several board members had raised concerns about his chronic absences from meetings (Gelbmann said he missed 20 meetings in two years due to illness and “a demanding work schedule”) and were prepared to air those criticisms at a special closed-door session, Gelbmann said in a telephone interview last week.
“Looking at the next two years, I didn’t see anything that would change that would allow me to attend any more board meetings,” Gelbmann said, adding that mounting health-related issues were also behind his decision to step down on June 30, with more than a year left in his fifth term.
The outspoken and at times polarizing Gelbmann said he is proudest of helping the district pass two contentious referendums (one that reduced class sizes and the other that allocated additional funding to “provide program improvements for individual buildings,” according to district officials), two years into his first term.
“Given the board’s history of not passing referendums — three successive referendums had failed — I was not optimistic that the referendums would pass,” he said.
Gelbmann, who works as committee administrator for the state House of Representatives Government Operations and Elections committees, will remain on the board of the East Metro Integration District (EMID), a consortium of 10 metro-area school districts.
During his 18-year tenure with District 833, Gelbmann did not shy away from controversy.
In 2012, he drew the ire of several board members for writing an essay, published in the South Washington County Bulletin, which criticized the board for voting to spend $5 million to build a new kindergarten center at Liberty Ridge Elementary in Woodbury.
“I know that rankled some administrators and some of my colleagues on the board, but I felt that that was in the best interests of our district and of our taxpayers,” said Gelbmann, a self-professed fiscally-conservative Democrat.
District officials did not respond to a request for comment about Gelbmann’s resignation.
Gelbmann said the decision to resign was difficult. But he ultimately decided that staying would be too disruptive for the board.
“I always subscribed to the Boy Scouts’ motto to leave someplace better than when you arrived,” Gelbmann said. “And I can clearly say that” the district “is better off than it was when I arrived.”