Carlton voters say yesVoters finally came through for the embattled Carlton School District on Tuesday. Nearly 60 percent voted “yes,” in favor of a new operating levy, with the final (unofficial) vote tally coming in at 1,240 in favor of the levy, 850 against.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Voters finally came through for the embattled Carlton School District on Tuesday. Nearly 60 percent voted “yes,” in favor of a new operating levy, with the final (unofficial) vote tally coming in at 1,240 in favor of the levy, 850 against.
Current School Board Chair Randy Schmitz and Carlton Superintendent Peter Haapala were in the county auditor’s office until 11 p.m. Tuesday, watching as boxes of ballots made their way upstairs.
“I’m most worried about the ‘yes’ vote,” said Schmitz, who was also up for re-election to the school board (he lost by 32 votes to Tim Johnson). “I’m concerned for the district. Whoever does win, I hope they understand the seriousness of the situation.”
Voters were asked to approve an excess levy of $1,100 per pupil unit for the next seven years.
Had it failed, taxes might have gone up even more in the long run. That’s because the district likely would have dissolved and sent its students to a neighboring school district, which would have put voters on the hook for that school district’s taxes as well as the Carlton district’s debt.
According to district calculations, passage of the referendum will mean 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.
The referendum itself should have come as no surprise to any voter in the Carlton area, following the school district’s very public struggle this summer to grasp the implication of its statutory operating debt (SOD) and, next, to come up with three state-mandated plans (Plans A, B and B-1) to get out of SOD.
“[The Nov. 2 referendum] is the most important issue that voters in this district have voted on in many years,” said former school board member Ryan Schmidt, who was also on the ballot but ineligible to serve after taking a part-time teaching job with the district. “It’s the difference between having a thriving school or a gaping hole in our community.”
If the referendum hadn’t passed, dramatic cuts were in store for the district, including the elimination of all extra-curricular activities.
In April, a two-part referendum ballot – with the first question asking voters to support a seven-year extension of the $500 operating referendum and a second question requesting support for an additional operating referendum that would increase the amount of money available per student unit to $850 – failed by 15 votes.
The failure of that levy and subsequent lack of cuts by the district triggered the state’s request for the SOD plans.
Oddly enough, Schmitz said in retrospect, it’s good the April referendum failed because of the information that came to light [after the former superintendent retired and school board members discovered the true extent of the district’s debt problem]. He spoke highly of Haapala, who started his job the same month the school board began unraveling the district’s debt problems and making plans to solve them.
“The members of the Forever Carlton [referendum] committee deserve a lot of credit for this vote,” Haapala said.
Schmitz agreed wholeheartedly.
“They did a phenomenal job,” he said.
Note: The Carlton School Board is accepting applications from residents to fill the remaining two years of Mike Soderstrom’s board term. Those are due at the district office by 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17.