Tufnell resigns superintendent job in Gwinn

MARQUETTE – Gwinn Area Community Schools Superintendent Kim Tufnell has submitted a letter of resignation to the district’s board of education.

The letter was submitted to the board Thursday and Tufnell’s resignation is effective June 30.

GACS has been facing tumbling enrollment – in addition to falling state funding – since the K.I. Sawyer Air Force base closed in the mid-1990s. Tufnell oversaw a turbulent period that included the announced closure of Gilbert Elementary School and the near elimination of the district’s fund balance.

Board president Gloria Bigelow, who called Tufnell “a wonderful superintendent,” said the closure of Gilbert was logical and that there were no other options, given the circumstances.

“However, some members in the community are upset by our decision and have been trying to offer other solutions so that the board will reverse their decision,” Bigelow said in a written statement. “The decision was made in the best interest of all students from Gwinn, Little Lake, Skandia, Sands and West Branch.

“As board president, I am sorry that she has decided to resign but I do understand. Since January her integrity and competency have been challenged by several individuals thus making it impossible for her to function as superintendent.”

Ron Libey, a current GACS board trustee and former president of the group, said Tufnell’s letter stated that current district events were taking a personal toll.

“She had been under attack, falsely in my opinion, personally and professionally. (There was) disrespect toward her from several sources and I knew that it was taking a toll on her, as far as being able to continue on,” Libey said. “She stated in the letter that it just appeared that we were not going to be able to move forward under the present circumstances and she felt it was in the best interest of the district and her personal life that she resign at this time.”

Libey, who said he was sharing only personal opinions and not those of the board, said the critiques of Tufnell and the board were often coming from people who had “very little understanding of the educational needs of children.”

Bill Nordeen, who has been on the school board since January, said the community concern extends beyond the closure of a school building and to general budget concerns. Even with the impending closure of the elementary school, GACS will likely need to trim hundreds of thousands of dollars to balance its budget for the coming year.

“It’s not just a community unhappy about closing a school,” Nordeen said. “It’s a community unhappy about not balancing a budget.”

He said the financial crisis was not created by Tufnell, who has been in the position for less than two years, but said more could have been done to fix it.

“I think she’s a very good teacher. I think she was an outstanding principal,” Nordeen said. “The problem is that being a superintendent requires also being a very good financial person and she had no financial background whatsoever, which she admits. She had no idea about how to go about addressing this financial crisis.”

Nordeen said he would like to see some of the district’s administrative workload shared, as a cost-saving measure. Rather than having a separate middle school and high school principal, as well as a superintendent, he suggested, the district should consider moving toward a model where the superintendent acts as the principal of the combined middle school and high school building.

The board is working to schedule a meeting as quickly as possible in order to accept the resignation and determine how to best move forward.

The school district’s budget must be finalized by the end of June. Bigelow said the board was hoping to vote on the budget at its June 24 meeting.

Tufnell began working in the district nearly a decade ago and also served as middle school principal. She took the reins as superintendent in early 2012, following the retirement of former superintendent Mike Maino.

Tufnell did not return a phone call for comment by press time today.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.