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Hooray for Carlton! Please keep your thinking caps on

There are a lot of people in the Carlton School District who deserve a pat on the back after Tuesday's election.

First, there are the 1,240 voters who voted in favor of the $1,100 operating levy, in spite of those big words at the bottom of the ballot stating that voting "yes" on the referendum would raise their taxes. They looked at the big picture instead, and chose to keep their school district on the road to recovery (from a serious debt problem) and their community whole.

Carlton Mayor Leola Rodd (who won her own race, by the way) was thrilled the referendum passed.

"I think it's going to keep the community together," she said Wednesday morning. "If we didn't have that school, I think our community would have died eventually. That school is a big part of so many things. And when you don't have a school, property values go down ... We would have lost out all ways."

And yes, while taxes will go up for the school's portion of property taxes in the district, they probably would have gone up more long term, because without the levy money, odds are good the district would have dissolved or consolidated with another district in the not-too-distant future.

According to election judges in the city of Carlton and Twin Lakes Township, many of the voters yesterday were young, some of them probably current students. Many registered for the first time at the polls. Congratulations to all of you first-time voters; may this be the first of many elections that you care passionately about.

The Forever Carlton committee and all who helped them get the word out about the referendum deserve an enormous round of applause for all their efforts. It was obvious a lot more people knew what was at stake in this election, simply by the number of votes cast.

Finally, there are the unsung heroes, who have been cast by some as villains. While it's true that members of the Carlton School Board should have had a better grasp of the district's true financial state prior to the former superintendent's retirement, it's also true that they worked diligently this summer with a new superintendent to sort out the mess and make a plan for the future. They put in a lot of late nights and made some tough decisions - efforts that now have the district on the road to financial stability (plans show the district coming out of statutory operating debt in 2014 and actually having a positive fund balance that year) for the first time in seven or eight years.

And then there is Superintendent Peter Haapala. A first-time superintendent, Haapala started work early after finding out what a mess the district was in. For his efforts, he has been painted by some as a luxury item. A good superintendent is like a good company CEO, worth his or her weight in gold. Not that Haapala is pulling in the big bucks. While rumors - perpetrated by at least one school board candidate, among others - place him among the top-paid superintendents in the state, Haapala's salary of $98,000 per year actually puts him in the bottom half. Compared to a Minnesota Public Radio survey of superintendent salaries from 2008-2009, his salary is greater than that of 139 superintendents, the same as five and less than what 180 others in the state earned two years ago.

Judging by the mess that the former superintendent left behind, Carlton school supporters should be well aware of the importance of a competent, open and honest administration. Exactly where was the former superintendent when people were wondering how the district got into such a mess?

You're off to a very good start Carlton, but there are a lot of decisions still to be made. Make them wisely and don't shoot the messenger.

Contact editor Jana Peterson at jpeterson@pinejournal.com

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