FARGO — The Fargo School Board voted 7-2 to censure board member Jennifer Benson Tuesday, June 23, for making “wildly out of order” accusations against the superintendent and associate superintendent.
Benson accused Superintendent Rupak Gandhi and Associate Superintendent Robert Grosz of withholding information pertaining to declining enrollment numbers, according to board member Kristi Ulrich.
“At this point I move to public censure Ms. Benson,” Ulrich said. “Ms. Benson has consistently reported inflammatory and unsubstantiated comments … and this has been detrimental to the psyche of staff, and as well as administration, and it greatly affects the overall reputation of the district as a whole.”
Benson called those comments "a pretty heavy accusation" and defended her actions by saying she had proof of information being withheld.
“I’ve asked time and time again to have that discussion … in a way to allow the board and the task force to do their research and analysis based on accurate information. Instead, it was just not talked about. I have proof of that," she said. "Perhaps you could have asked me that first.”
Public censure within the school board is a public statement meant to say board members disagree with repetitive behavior that willfully violates policy by another board member, Fargo School Board President Robin Nelson said.
“I think this is quite the accusation to put into one of these documents,” board member John Rodenbiker said. “If there is suspicion that anyone is withholding information from this board, that is incredible and deserves an investigation. I was stunned when I saw this. I do not think this is a credible accusation, and I believe it’s wildly out of order for a member of this board to act like this.”
“We’ve never come to this level at the board level,” Nelson said.
Gandhi said this is an awkward moment for the administration.
“We are tasked to work for the majority of the board,” Gandhi said. “Since I was named as well, I owe it to the board to share some of the information.”
Gandhi said the accusation was baseless as enrollment numbers are shared at every board meeting, including when the board was debating building a new school or changing school boundaries. Benson consistently voted in favor of building a new school to alleviate south Fargo’s growing student numbers
The board ultimately decided to change school boundaries.
“First off, I know we never withheld information, which is public knowledge. … We have always started off our presentations off with where our enrollment numbers are at that time,” Gandhi said.
“You're questioning our intent. ... So, what motivation would we ever have to withhold enrollment information, and secondly, if we wanted to deliberately keep that information from the board, why was that not questioned at least one of five to 10 times we presented enrollment information to this board since that time?" he asked.
“You did, and there’s proof, which was never forwarded and sent to the board,” Benson said.
Board member David Paulson voted against censuring Benson, saying differences of opinions are welcomed.
Ulrich and Nelson said the inflammatory remarks have occurred more than once.