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Carlton, Cloquet talks will continue

Cloquet school board members approved “continued discussions” with Carlton about a tuition agreement for Carlton’s high school students, but removed language that indicated approval of the “general framework” of discussions so far.

Cloquet superintendent Michael Cary told the board they were not approving the agreement, just the general direction of discussions so far, when they voted on the resolution.

Cary said discussion so far includes moving some, but not all, state money per student to Cloquet. That would include anything attached to providing education and long-term facilities maintenance dollars “for wear and tear on the buildings,” Cary said. It would not include transportation funds, because the Carlton School District would still be responsible for transporting students to and from Cloquet. On top of that, Cloquet would receive aextra $800 per student from the Carlton operating levy, under the current framework.

School board members questioned whether Cloquet would need to hire Carlton teachers. The answer was “no.” Cary said Cloquet would be free to hire any teacher should additional positions be required. Costs for special education are borne by the resident district, he said.

“We’ve been very clear that while we are willing to tray to be a good neighbor we have to ensure the agreement works well for our students and taxpayers,” Cary said. “That’s been our guiding theme.”

The tuition agreement is one of the issues Cloquet School Board members will discuss in more detail at a special committee of the whole meeting set for 8 a.m. Friday, Aug. 20.

While the Cloquet board had its discussion, the Carlton board was also meeting in committee of the whole session Monday.

Superintendent John Engstrom and board members said there has been some pushback about the idea of sending district high schoolers to Cloquet but not enough to keep the district from moving forward.

Engstrom reiterated that the district task is “providing the best educational opportunity” for students and while people can be upset about the loss of the high school, “a decision needs to be made.”

Engstrom mentioned a favorite book on decision making and said the board checked all the deliberative boxes on coming to the option of a tuition agreement.

Board member Tim Hagenah said the board was creating an “opportunity for our kids.”

Board chairwoman Julianne Emerson urged board members to consider timelines, noting that the opportunity to ask for a November referendum on shoring up South Terrace for the influx of students has passed. The earliest voters may have a say would be in February or later. Engstrom has said that should a tuition agreement get hammered out in the next few months, it would be effective for the 2022-2023 school year. If fixes can’t be made in time, the district could employ what would be the former high school building.

Emerson said it is crucial that parents and staff get an idea when the change could happen for they can make choices.

For now, the board will “wait” for Cloquet’s offer. That’s the word used most often Monday night.