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Schools agree on Raptors pairings

Struggling financially and facing declining enrollments, the Carlton and Wrenshall schools agreed to bring together all junior high and high school sports earlier this week. The move to combine sports gained approval from both school boards, with only one dissenting vote among the two boards.

“We need to give this opportunity to our athletes,” Wrenshall board member Ben Johnson said, explaining there are seasons in which, going alone, the schools would not have enough players to field teams.

“We’re putting eighth-graders up against seniors,” Johnson said, echoing a refrain during the Wrenshall board meeting Monday, Oct. 17 that featured a full audience and several speakers both for and against the proposal.

The schools have previously competed together in football, cross country, track and field, and softball. The door is now open for basketball, volleyball, and baseball teams to also join forces under the banner of Carlton/Wrenshall Raptors.

Wrenshall athletic director Luke Wargin was sympathetic to concerns from some student-athletes and parents who opposed the transition. He said there was never going to be a right time, but that it had to be done.

“If we didn’t combine programs, we would be dead,” Wargin said, referring to football, which played only a junior varsity season this year as the co-op worked to replenish its roster.

Wrenshall senior Bryson Jessup spoke up about the spring baseball season, which figured to be light on players without a co-op.

“At least in terms of baseball, consolidation is imperative,” Jessup said.

While the boards generally agreed, Carlton members stipulated at their meeting Monday that the full sports cooperative would begin in spring, not this winter.

A motion to combine sports beginning in winter failed, 3-2, but a motion to start in spring was passed unanimously.

“Given the lateness, the board was uncomfortable moving forward with winter of 2022,” superintendent John Engstrom said. “If it’s winter or nothing, that will be a decision (Wrenshall) will have to make.”

The winter sports season begins in a matter of weeks, a fact that left several Wrenshall people concerned the agreement was being rushed. Wrenshall board member Nicole Krisak said she’d been convinced by speakers at the meeting.

“In my view, it is rushed,” she said. “I’m against (it).”

The schools have been meeting throughout the past year on a cooperative committee featuring three representatives from each school, including Krisak.

They’ll meet again in early November to discuss further details of the arrangement. At the start of the school year, the boards agreed to share cooperative costs and split host sites evenly. It appears coaches of the newly combined programs will be selected on what Johnson termed a “merit” basis following interviews with the committee.

The schools had previously agreed to combine in other after-school programs, including One- and Three-Act Play, Knowledge Bowl, robotics, science fair, Business Professionals of America, Math League and a Genders and Sexualities Alliance advisor to be shared between the schools. Other activities, such as cheerleading, are also now on the table.

“Everybody is in favor of the same thing and moving in the same direction,” Engstrom said. “That’s encouraging.”

Combining costs for travel, coaching and officiating figures to relieve some pressure on the struggling districts’ budgets, too, but Engstrom cautioned it’s a “drop in the bucket,” compared to cost-saving decisions to come for Carlton.

Wrenshall board members have repeatedly said that merging sports and activities was a step toward combining the school districts. That topic was not addressed during the meeting.

Board members want resignation

Two members of the Wrenshall school board, Jack Eudy and Cindy Bourn, called for the resignation of superintendent Kim Belcastro on Monday.

Bourn read a letter from Eudy, who was in attendance remotely, citing what both described as a series of “lies” from Belcastro. They inferred Belcastro set-up the school’s former technology director, who the board terminated this summer after investigating a threat made against the superintendent.

The Pine Knot spoke with Belcastro on Tuesday.

“I don’t plan on it,” she said of resigning. “This isn’t about me. It’s about me supporting these staff and students at this school. They need me to see this through with them, because it’s a difficult situation.”

She called the board members’ insinuations “all lies,” and said if Eudy and Bourn are elected to serve again in November, she may reconsider her options. Belcastro is in the final year of her contract, and has said she could retire at any time.

“The references made last night … do not belong in our public schools,” she said.

Board member Ben Johnson agreed, saying during the meeting he was “just disgusted” by what he termed an “attack.”

“You have been dragging this school through the mud,” Johnson said to Eudy and Bourn.

Eudy, an incumbent, and Bourn, an appointee, are vying with incumbent Deb Washenesky, appointee Johnson, and challengers Mary Carlson, Eric Ankrum and Kristin Reinsch for three spots on the board in the Nov. 8 election.

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