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Consolidation survey primer offered

Residents, parents and staff receive survey in Wrenshall and Carlton school districts

It’s 20 minutes that could change the future of two school districts and the children they serve.

That’s about how long residents, staff and parents in the Carlton and Wrenshall school districts should set aside to complete their copies of a community survey regarding consolidation talks and facility plans between the two districts. Copies of the survey were mailed to school district residents and any parents/guardians of students who open-enroll into either district. Staff received the survey electronically this week.

The seven-page document covers many things, starting with the “why” of the survey: which is basically because the two school boards want reliable community feedback “that reflects the will of the taxpayers” before proceeding (or not) with possible plans to consolidate. It also includes background, facility needs, costs, tax information and timing for a possible consolidation. And, of course, there are numerous questions about the “how” of consolidation: close Carlton’s secondary school? Reopen the swimming pool in Wrenshall?

Wrenshall resident Tony Sheda attended Monday’s Wrenshall school board meeting with his own list of questions about the survey.

No. 1 on his list was why the survey talks about state aid for consolidation — which could reduce the cost to local taxpayers by as much as 46 percent — as if it were going to happen.

Sheda pointed out that getting $20 million or more from the state “is a longshot” and asked the board why it doesn’t give people the costs without state aid.

Board member Matt Laveau was frank.

“If the 46 percent is not a viable option, we’re not doing it,” he told Sheda.

“There’s no way any of us will support it if we don’t get the 46 percent,” board member Janaki Fisher-Merritt added. “I wouldn’t vote for it.”

Sheda also asked why anyone other than taxpayers in the two school districts is being asked to fill out the survey — i.e., parents of open-enrolled students and teachers who don’t live there — since they won’t be paying the increased taxes that would follow.

Board member Janaki Fisher- Merritt explained that the districts want to know if the plan has staff support and what size a consolidated district would be.

“Will we have 800 students K-12 or 1200 if all the Carlton students [that open-enroll elsewhere] come back?” Fisher-Merritt said. “And there might be some faculty that say ‘This is not what I signed up for.’”

When it comes to answering the question of how much people are willing to pay in taxes, Fisher-Merritt said consulting firm School Perceptions has the ability to separate taxpayer responses from others.

“We want to know what will pass,” he said. “If you won’t support an increase, we want to know. If we’d done this a few years ago when the vote [failed] 75/25 percent, we wouldn’t have put that out.”

Each printed copy also contains a unique survey access number that people can use if they would prefer to answer the questions online. People can also reach out to either district to request additional survey copies for other adult members of the household to fill out or additional online codes.

The survey results go directly to consulting firm School Perceptions and are anonymous. No one from either school will get to see the individual answers; rather, the consulting firm will organize and compile the results.

Laveau stressed that people should answer the surveys, whether they support consolidation or not.

“We’d much rather people fill the survey out than they don’t,” Laveau said, pointing out that the trend in surveys is to get under 20 percent returned, but Wrenshall usually sees 90 percent of voters at a school referendum vote. “If people don’t support it and they fill out a survey, they might just save themselves a trip to the voting booth.”

As of Monday, Wrenshall superintendent Kim Belcastro said 133 surveys had already been turned in, according to School Perceptions.

Surveys are supposed to be completed by Jan. 27. The two school boards will get the results on Feb. 10, and the results will be discussed publicly at a Feb. 11 joint board meeting at South Terrace Elementary School.

Have questions? Carlton school district residents can call 218-384-4225, ext. 114 and Wrenshall school district residents can call 218-384-4274, ext. 2001.


Wrenshall board elects leadership

In the annual organizational meeting for the Wrenshall school board held Monday, Michelle Blanchard was elected the new school board chairwoman, while Jack Eudy was elected vice chairman. Deb Washenesky is the new board clerk, and Janaki Fisher-Meritt the new board treasurer. The Pine Knot News is the Wrenshall school district’s new official newspaper.