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December 6, 2019
A survey is being designed to determine what Carlton and Wrenshall school district residents will support. On the table is a consolidation with an elementary in Carlton and a high school in Wrenshall. Both districts have made investments in these respective buildings, and it makes financial sense to not throw them away. Improve on what you already have as an asset. It also gives each population center a school building. The current Carlton High School building and property would be sold to the County for a jail improvement.
The estimated cost of this two site consolidation is about $38 million, because there are improvements needed to each facility, and space must be made for the kids and staff from the old Carlton High School. This whole deal is contingent on state aid that would pay for nearly half of the $38 million. As one of the highest-taxed states in the nation, bringing nearly half of the needed dollars back from St. Paul to our community to create a solid unified school district would be a big break. It’s frankly a mountain of equity and the best overall value I have seen yet.
The Wrenshall board is unanimously supportive of this two-site consolidation option. The Carlton board is split, of course. Members Jennifer Chmielewski and Anne Gustafson are in support of the two-site consolidation. Members Sye Karp and Sam Ojibway are visibly burdened with the decision, but have publicly stated they will go with what the public wants. The upcoming survey is supposed to tell us what that is. LaRae Lehto and Tim Hagenah, as well as superintendent Gwen Carman seem to want to look at all options indefinitely, as they have also stated they do not necessarily agree that consolidation with Wrenshall under a two-site option is the best.
An architectural firm paid for by both districts has done multiple analysis on multiple options. The analysis reveals that a two-site consolidation option with state aid is the best price and lowest cost to the local taxpayers. You can call either district office for a copy of these publicly presented documents.
If the two-site option doesn’t pass, remaining options are going to get riskier and more expensive. The reason is simple. With any other options, which are too complex to explain here, you don’t get large sums of state aid brought back from St. Paul to help pay for a consolidation and associated facility improvements. One way or another, we will pay a price to educate these kids. That need will not go away.
The state aid for consolidation is not guaranteed. Sen. Jason Rarick and Rep. Mike Sundin have to go to St. Paul and make the request by introducing law. That session begins in February.
This community we live in is nice in many ways. But the economy isn’t especially robust compared to other regional population centers. The population growth is relatively flat and it is aging, according to the state demographer’s report. If you keep raising taxes on your remaining people and do not give them value in return, you get what you are getting now. Fewer and poorer bodies to pay increasing bills.
This two-site consolidation option is the last shot at bringing home a good value, shoring up the kids’ education for a decent price and in doing so, lessening demands on our local tax base.
If you sit on your hands, you are going to get back the effort you put in, and it is going to cost all of us for a long time. If you live in the Carlton or Wrenshall school districts, I’d appreciate it if you’d look into this subject a little. Contact your legislators, contact your schools, and be informed. Answer the upcoming survey armed with some knowledge and understanding.
Dave Chmielewski is a resident of Blackhoof Township and is married to Carlton school board member Jennifer Chmielewski.