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Fargo school board ousts Johnson as president after he's accused of disrespecting public, bullying

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Jim Johnson2 / 3
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FARGO — Emotions were high at Fargo Public Schools' board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 27, when the board voted to remove Jim Johnson from his role as president after another member accused him of bullying her and disrespecting the public.

Board member Jennifer Benson became choked up and had to step away from the meeting table to regain her composure before making a motion to discuss her claims against Johnson.

She told the board that Johnson bullied her after the previous board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

"After the meeting, Jim cornered me. He used profanity — a word I can't repeat. It starts with an F. You can fill in the blanks. He started by saying 'Don't you ever ... blindside me again,'" Benson said. "I feel like I have been bullied enough, and I don't think any board member should be tolerant of this behavior ever."

Johnson refuted this, telling Benson that he felt she made derogatory comments about him.


Benson also accused Johnson of disrespecting members of the public at the Feb. 13 meeting. At that meeting parents from the Woodhaven and Pointe West neighborhoods raised concerns about possible school boundary changes.

Benson, who's been on the board since 2014, said it takes courage for members of the public to speak before the board and that after the Feb. 13 meeting she heard from parents who were "discouraged" by Johnson downplaying their concerns.

"Our president used his position to make condescending comments to the audience in a dismissive fashion," she said.

Benson claimed Johnson violated the board's code of conduct policy on accuracy by being inconsistent in his communications with the public and board members regarding boundary changes. She also said he violated the code by disrespecting her.

Johnson, a board member for more than 15 years, told The Forum that he disputes the notion that he violated the board's code of conduct.

Other board members said that after the Feb. 13 meeting they received comments from community residents who said Johnson was perceived as a bully.

Johnson told the board he doesn't believe he spoke in a condescending manner to the public. "I'd say the same thing again today," he said, adding that he's been as honest as he can in his communications.


The board voted 6-3 to remove Johnson as president, with Linda Boyd, Dinah Goldenberg and Johnson voting against the motion.

Vice President Rebecca Knutson will serve as president for the remainder of Johnson's one-year term through the end of this school year.

District spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell said the board will elect a new vice president at a future meeting and that Johnson will remain on the board.

Johnson said he's hopeful Knutson will effectively lead the board and district. "Obviously, they didn't have confidence in me to continue serving as president," he said.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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