Carlton decides referendum questionIf at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. After spending the summer embroiled in community meetings, Carlton School Board members have arrived at the exact perimeters for this November’s vote on an operating referendum for the district. At Monday’s regular board meeting, board members announced the referendum will ask for $1,100 per pupil unit for seven years.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
After spending the summer embroiled in community meetings, Carlton School Board members have arrived at the exact perimeters for this November’s vote on an operating referendum for the district. At Monday’s regular board meeting, board members announced the referendum will ask for $1,100 per pupil unit for seven years.
That amounts to an increase in property taxes on a $100,000 home of approximately $140 per year. On a home assessed at $250,000 the annual increase would be closer to $406 dollars.
“That’s about a carton of cigarettes a month,” audience member Dave Dinehart said. “Actually, the cigarettes would be more expensive.”
In April, some 51 percent of voters in the Carlton School District said no to extending the current excess levy ($500 per pupil unit), slated to expire at the end of 2010. The unofficial vote total was 433-418. A second question on the ballot would have raised the levy, but could not pass without the first question being approved.
This time around, board members want to avoid the confusion of having a two-question referendum. They also want to avoid low-balling the figure, because the Minnesota Department of Education has told the district it has only three years to climb out of statutory operating debt (SOD).
“By changing this number [from the $500 requested in April], is it enough,” posed audience member Penny Bennett, “or are we just getting by?”
Board Chair Randy Schmitz assured Bennett that the figure was high enough, although the district will still have to make some cuts in the next year to build up a healthy fund balance and stay out of SOD in the future.
“Actually, taxpayers have been getting by probably for many years not paying the appropriate amount,” said Schmitz, noting that nearly all the surrounding communities pay higher school taxes. (For example, on a $100,000 home, tax payers in Barnum pay $504, Esko $417 and Cloquet $403, while Carlton pays $250.)
On the subject of district debt, board members also voted Monday to authorize and award sale of general obligation aid anticipation certificates of indebtedness – essentially borrowing to cover expenses from a pool of money until the district gets its anticipated payments from the state.
“We’re hoping there’s a day we don’t need this,” said Schmitz.
After the meeting, Schmitz explained the district’s financial shortfall is not caused by the state borrowing from the district, but rather from the district’s ongoing financial woes.
Also at Monday’s regular Carlton School Board meeting, board members took the following actions:
Approved the hiring of Rebecca Connelly for the position of assistant high school principal for the 2010-2011 school year. Because Superintendent Peter Haapala’s position is described in his contract as 70 percent superintendent and 30 percent high school principal, Connelly will assist him with the day-to-day duties of principal, in particular, Haapala noted, discipline and emergency response. While Connelly won’t teach language arts anymore, she likely will retain her duties as testing coordinator.
Accepted the resignation of Activities Director William Wietman effective July 8, 2010. Wietman wrote in a letter to the board that he was resigning because of recent communication issues between the board, teachers and the community. In his letter, Wietman also noted that while he is willing to continue to teach without a contract and without being paid for his master’s degree, he was not willing to do that in an extra-curricular position.
Approved the election of three school board seats at the general election Nov. 2. Affidavits of candidacy must be filed with the school clerk at 405 School Ave. in Carlton starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, and ending at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17. Candidates must be 21 years old or older, eligible to vote and must have resided in the school district for 30 days prior to filing. School board terms are four years; open seats are those currently held by Randy Schmitz, Brenda Tischer and Ryan Schmidt.
Making a plan, or four
Earlier this summer, the Minnesota Department of Education granted the Carlton School District an extension on a timeline to submit four different plans to the state for getting out of statutory operating debt (SOD).
Because the district has been in SOD seven of the last eight years, Carlton must submit three plans – A, B and B-1 – to the state at least three weeks before an Aug. 31 deadline, and a plan C in early December.
The referendum is a key part of Plan A, which must detail how much money a referendum proposed for next November will ask for and what the district will do if the referendum passes.
Plans B and B-1, however, are supposed to detail what actions the district will take if the referendum fails, with B-1 being a worst-case scenario if the referendum fails and student numbers go down. Plan C is supposed to outline what the district will do if it cannot go on: Will it dissolve and allow county commissioners to decide where kids go to school or will it consolidate with another school district? If the district doesn’t complete those four plans and have them approved, the state would likely stop funding the district.
At Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Peter Haapala told the 20-some people in the audience that the board is close to hammering out the details of the A, B and B-1 SOD plans, and will likely have a final vote on the plans the first week of August. He did hope to have details of those plans posted on the district website by late this week or early next week.