This is the second in a series of Q&A articles with the candidates up for the South Washington County School Board.
There are . We continue today with incumbent Jim Gelbmann.
The election is Nov. 8.
Jim Gelbmann, Woodbury
Gelbmann has a BA in Economics and Speech Communication from the University of Minnesota-Morris (1980), and currently serves as Minnesota's Deputy Secretary of State in the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State.
Why are you qualified to sit on the District 833 School Board?
I've been a member of the South Washington County School Board for the past 16 years. When I first ran for the board, I did so because I care deeply about the quality of education we provide for our children.
Mary, my spouse, and I moved into the South Washington County school district in 1991, when my oldest son was about to enter first grade. We selected this community due to the fabulous reputation of its public schools. It was only after my son began first grade with 33 other students in his classroom that we realized the district had a significant financial problem.
For four years I volunteered my time in an attempt to pass an operating levy referendum. Those four years were a wake-up call. I realized the district had a significant credibility gap with its residents—a gap that could only be addressed by a change in the leadership on the school board.
When I first ran, I planned to attempt to stay on the board as long as I had children in our schools. At the time, my youngest son was in third grade, and I felt I could handle a 12-year commitment to improving our schools. One year later my wife and I adopted the first of our two daughters from Cambodia. What began as a 12-year commitment blossomed into a 20-year commitment.
Three years after joining the board, our residents approved three referendums on the very same ballot. Those victories demonstrated what could be accomplished when you regain the trust of the citizens.
The passage of those three referendums, along with the subsequent passage of additional operating and bonding referendums, have enabled our teachers and administrators to substantially improve the quality of education we are able to offer our children.
I provide this background to underscore the benefits of having at least one board member who has served on the board during good times and bad. That institutional memory has benefited the board many times—discussing what has worked in the past and what has failed to work.
For example, earlier this year, the administration and school board created a task force to explore the . I lobbied hard to be placed on that task force. My experience from the 1990s taught me that you don't ask voters to increase their property taxes unless you can justify the need.
On June 30, 2011, our district ended its fiscal year with over $17 million in the bank. How can we possibly justify asking our residents to increase their taxes when we had $17 million in the bank? To add insult to injury, the proposed referendum would not have been used to improve the quality of education; rather, the administration suggested a referendum might be needed to prevent the district's fund balance from dropping too low.
Fortunately, I was able to convince the task force and the board that now was not the right time to ask the voters to approve a referendum to slow the rate of depletion of our fund balance.
Many more of my qualifications for the board can be found by visiting my website at www.jimgelbmann.com.
The district’s operating levy expires before the 2013-14 school year. Where do you stand on the need to renew it?
The operating levy that expires prior to the 2013-14 school year must be renewed in either November 2012 or November 2013. The exact timing of the renewal depends upon any possible actions the 2012 legislature takes to further improve state funding for K-12 education.
It is regrettable that our state legislators have significantly backed away from their constitutional responsibility to fund an adequate and equitable education for our pre-school, elementary and secondary students.
In 2003, the state provided $4,601 for every full-time student in our schools; by 2011, the state per-pupil aid formula had increased to $5,125 per student. Had the state's per-pupil aid formula kept pace with inflation between 2003 and 2011, our schools would have received $1,091 more for every student in our schools—funding that could have been used to improve the quality of education we provide for our children.
Much of the inability for the state to keep pace with inflation in funding its general education aid formula has resulted in higher local property taxes—thereby placing the loss of an adequate inflationary increase in state aid dollars squarely on the backs of property owners.
When should we ask property taxpayers for a new operating levy? After we have depleted our fund balance, which currently exceeds our self-imposed fund balance policy, and we have fully exhausted all efforts to convince the state Legislature to provide adequate and equitable funding for our children's education.
Why should we ask for a levy referendum? Our children should not be held hostage to the inability of state lawmakers to provide adequate and equitable funding for education. The only way they will be able to compete in a global economy is if we provide them with the skills and knowledge for success in an increasingly competitive world economy.
How should the district ask for more referendum money? If it becomes necessary, the board should be as open and honest with the citizens regarding our financial situation and fully explain the consequences of a failure to approve the renewal of the referendum.
What is the most important step the district must take to address looming financial pressures?
Convince the Legislature that it has a constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate and equitable education for all children.
Aside from the budget, what is the most important issue facing the school district?
The school board must establish a priority for equalizing the educational resources in all buildings—with particular emphasis on the level of technology that is incorporated within the classrooms.
It is embarrassing that every classroom and several conference rooms in are fully equipped with SMART Boards and intelligent classroom technology, while less than 40 percent of the classrooms in and Park High School are equipped with this technology.
Two equally important issues are:
- 1) identifying strategies to make sure every child is able to attain his or her maximum potential; and
- 2) providing for the safety of all students, including providing adequate mental health resources to address the added stress all students are experiencing in this ever changing and increasingly competitive world.
Why are you running for school board?
I would like to spend my final four years on the board focusing more of my energy and experience in working with state lawmakers and education officials to re-create the Minnesota Miracle—to develop a statewide education funding formula that truly does provide for an adequate and equitable education for all students.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Please visit my website at www.jimgelbmann.com for substantially more information about my 16 years of service on the board, what my focus will be for the next four years and why this will be the last time I respectfully ask you for your vote.
You have seven candidates who each will bring his or her own strengths and weaknesses to the board. After reading my material, I hope you will strongly consider casting one of your three votes for me.