Our View: What will light a fire in Carlton?


February 18, 2022

Cutting sports and other extracurricular activities is the third rail of consideration for any smart school board, but at the risk of losing students because of lost non-classroom experience — exactly what a struggling district can’t have happen.

And so here we are in Carlton. When board members said that anything is on the table when it comes to trimming what was expected to be $1 million in cost overruns, they weren’t blowing smoke.

At its January meeting, the board did not approve contracts for two staff members who were ready to lead the school play and small band. It’s unfortunate that the arts always seems to be the first to go, and, in this case, it came without much consternation at all.

But sports and other activities are indeed in the mix, as was discussed at the February regular meeting on Monday.

Word of caution, the board is merely batting ideas around at this point. But the dire reality in Carlton is, indeed, that nothing is sacred.

There is good news.

Superintendent John Engstrom reported Monday that the expected $900,000-plus deficit for the year might actually come in at $500,000 or even less, depending on several factors: unfilled positions, savings on supplies, and more money from the state than expected.

The board agreed that the goal for next year’s budgeting should be to halve that $500,000 number. It means it will need to find $250,000 in cuts this year.

Cutting sports would save about $150,000, but at what extra cost, board members pondered.

Moving all electives to the online format the district already uses could mean $160,000 in savings. It was Engstrom’s suggestion that the board find a big-ticket savings item and then whittle down to reach its budget goals. Raising activities fees would be an example of small savings.

Finding the $250,000 seems within reach without hurting the student experience too much. But what about next year, board members wondered.

Yes, everything is on the table. At the public meetings in January, there was overwhelming testimony against the idea of releasing high school students to Cloquet. Residents in Carlton seem to want to keep their high school at all costs. Suggestions for cost savings included holding bake sales and other events to whack away at the deficit.

That won’t work. There are serious cuts to make. How those are shaped will take deep consideration, and the Carlton board members are certainly open to any serious ideas the community may have.

People showed up when the high school was threatened. They need to keep showing up to help guide the district along as it continues to struggle to get healthy.

If discussion about dropping volleyball, football, basketball or other sports lights a fire, the board should keep them on the table. It’s the board’s ultimate budget decision, but its members, as witnessed last month, don’t make decisions in a vacuum. They listen to those they represent. Carlton residents need to keep talking to them.


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