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Wrenshall voters say 'no'

Arlo Peterson puts his ballot in the box Tuesday afternoon at Wrenshall school. Jamie Lund/

Voters turned out in force for the Wrenshall School District Bond Referendum vote Tuesday and their message was clear.

Nearly three-fourths voted against the $12.5 million bond referendum for school renovations and an expansion to the pre-K-12 school in rural Carlton County. The absentee votes were 56 yes and 175 against, regular voting 194 yes and 482 against, bringing the grand total to 250 "yes" and 657 "no" votes.

Residents stood patiently in a short line of three or four people waiting for the volunteers to hand them a ballot and point them to a table to fill it out. They made quiet small talk with friends and the volunteers before passing through Ms. Niesen's classroom to place their ballots in a large blue plastic tub from noon to 8 p.m. on the grey rainy day.

The ballot question asked for a "yes" or "no" answer to the following question:

Shall the Board of Independent School No. 100 be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $12,500,000 to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities, including the renovation, repair, remodeling, upgrading and construction of additions and improvements to the existing PK-12 school site and facility, the demolition of the existing Recreation Building and the construction of a dedicated bus loading area and paved parking areas?

"Of course it's disappointing," said Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro Wednesday morning. However, she was impressed with the number of voters out of a possible 1200-plus, even though the referendum did not pass.

Belcastro said there were two major points of contention for the residents: open enrollment and a utility company tax lawsuit going through the courts now that could increase property taxes, depending on how the case is decided.

The issue of open enrollment — 40 percent of Wrenshall's students don't live in the school district — has been a point of discussion with local residents, many who think the district should cap open enrollment and argue that the parents of those students won't share the burden of increased taxes since they don't live in the district. Others argue that the open-enrolled students bring in money to the school district, close to $1 million in state funds annually, according to Belcastro.

"I voted no," said tax accountant Arlo Peterson Tuesday. "I do not believe that kind of spending is necessary."

Peterson, who has been working long hours, said he had not had time to read the stories, but did take off that afternoon to cast his vote. Peterson speculated that schools could become obsolete and students may be taught over the internet instead of in a school building. Others think the Wrenshall and Carlton school districts should consolidate.

Many residents wrote passionate letters to the editor to publish in the Pine Journal newspaper for weeks leading up to the vote, voicing their opinions on both sides of the issue.

"While we were hoping to be set for the next 20 years, we will keep moving forward," said Belcastro. She stressed that things are going well at the school, they are even planning to add four new teachers to keep up with the influx of students.

While Belcastro was surprised at the high number of residents who voted against the referendum, she is still optimistic about the school's future.

"Of course we're going to revisit after we rest and regroup," Belcastro said. "I will get back with the board in a few weeks."