Board seeks consolidation with Carlton


August 4, 2023

The Wrenshall School Board is expected to seek a new round of consolidation talks with the Carlton School District following an affirmative vote on a proposal Wednesday.

In a letter addressed to the Carlton School Board, the Wrenshall board proposes a joint meeting of both full boards.

“During that meeting we hope to listen to the community on the topic of consolidation and discuss how potential consolidation negotiations might move forward,” says the letter presented at the Wrenshall committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday.

The Wrenshall board will formally vote on the letter during its regular board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

The letter cited the successful merging of sports and activities between the schools that began in full last school year.

“Our sports co-op is actively demonstrating how well the districts can work together,” the proposed letter says. “Consolidation will allow our districts to better serve our students and community.”

Consolidation talks between the districts have been on-again, off-again for decades, including most recently in 2021, when Carlton voted to pause ongoing negotiations.

Wrenshall board member Mary Carlson penned the new, one-page letter to the Carlton board at the request of Superintendent Jeff Pesta. Provided it gains formal approval Monday, the letter will be signed by all members of the Wrenshall board and delivered to the Carlton school board.

“It’s simple and gets to the point without getting into the weeds,” board member Eric Ankrum said of the letter. “Obviously, that will come.”

“It’s short and simple — opening that door up,” board chair Nicole Krisak said.

Both Wrenshall and Carlton districts are in states of declining enrollment. Wrenshall is actively facing budget cuts, having made $320,000 in cuts entering the 2023-24 school year. Its latest budget is based on 325 students — roughly 25-30 students below historic norms. Carlton has been projected to be deficit spending once it exhausts coffers of funding related to the Covid-19 recovery.

The new consolidation effort originated during a July 25 study session of the Wrenshall board. Superintendent Pesta presented the Wrenshall board with six paths forward as a school district.

“One of those options was consolidation,” the proposed letter says. “During the conversation that followed, it became clear that our board would like to re-engage with the Carlton School District on consolidation.”

Hangups on consolidation in the past have been intertwined with the prospect of losing community identity and decisions about what students would go to which buildings. At one point earlier this decade, a flurry of consolidation discussions found the two boards agreeing on a two-site plan which would utilize South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton for lower grades and the Wrenshall school for a high school.

The schools began competing together across the sports spectrum last spring. A joint board overseeing progress for the Carlton-Wrenshall Raptors programs met again recently. Wrenshall came away from that meeting having decided to raise its activities fees to match Carlton’s. Wrenshall hadn’t raised its participation fees since the late 1990s. Under a proposal expected to be presented Monday, junior high fees will go from $55 to $70, and high school fees will rise from $85 to $100 — still reasonable figures, the Wrenshall board members agreed during their committee of the whole meeting.

“It brings more continuity,” board member Ben Johnson said. “It’s time we met Carlton.”

Now, the board will attempt to come to an agreement on something far bigger than sports and activities.

The proposed consolidation letter concludes by saying: “There are many details that will need to be worked out, but we hope that we can all meet soon to discuss this important topic.”

The Carlton school board meets again at 7 p.m. Aug. 21. The Wrenshall board members discussed sending at least two board members to that meeting.


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