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Public gets say on school talks


November 1, 2019

Public meetings are continuing on the question of consolidation between the Carlton and Wrenshall school districts and it seems a bit of a divide lingers between residents in each district.

A handful of people braved the nor’easter storm on Oct. 21 for the first public meeting outlining the two-site consolidation plan and its associated costs. There, the pressing question was about whether or not to keep the current nonfunctioning pool at the Wrenshall school or scrap it.

Another question rang loud and clear as well: What does the Carlton school board plan to do since Wrenshall seems pretty set on the two-site plan with an elementary at South Terrace and high school at Wrenshall?

Nothing became clearer after another public hearing in Carlton Oct. 24. Longtime Carlton board member Tim Hagenah continued his support for the consolidated districts moving to one school site, despite the public being told at the meeting that the discussion was about the taste for consolidation, a two-site district and the sticker price for updating and right-sizing two buildings.

Carlton member Sue Karp said, “for Wrenshall, it’s their way or the highway. I’m considering looking at all options.”

Some in attendance said it’s time to stop arguing over whether to consolidate or not. Others spoke out against it or in favor of a one-site solution.

Former Carlton board member Rick Santkuyl urged the boards to allow the residents to vote.

“The only way to get a real answer is to get a vote,” he said. The answer is to let democracy work.”

Superintendents from each district said teachers from both districts overwhelmingly support the idea because it will give students more learning opportunities.

If that means a two-site option to get to consolidation, so be it, people at both public meetings last week said.

The district will seek money from the state through changing a bill to include funding for districts going through consolidation. Accountants for the districts estimate getting such a bill passed could mean a 47 percent reduction on the roughly $38 million needed to add on to and improve the Wrenshall and South Terrace schools to accommodate larger enrollments and modernize.

The boards meet jointly on Nov. 12 and that will likely be the penultimate event before regular board meetings the following week. Both boards are expected to make commitments to a timeline that included getting word of the state funding by the end of May and a referendum on consolidation and the bonding to pay for it in August. The two district could officially consolidate by July 1, 2021.

Although there would be a complicated and formulaic mix of current debt and levies spread among the district residents under consolidation, the mere cost of refurbishing both schools with another referendum would be about a $180 increase in school taxes a year, or about 50 cents a day.

Students last week spoke out for consolidation, wearing Raptors team apparel, echoing their teachers.

“There is no perfect plan,” said Carlton board member Ann Gustafson. “Everybody will sacrifice something. But that is what makes the best plan.”

Timothy Soden-Groves contributed to this story.


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