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Carlton is in the black and looking forward to a brighter future

Jana Peterson

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The Carlton School District may have officially emerged from its Statutory Operating Debt (SOD) struggles at the end of fiscal year 2012, but only now does Superintendent Peter Haapala feel like the district’s financial woes are truly in the past.

“We are probably a year ahead of the game,” Haapala said, noting that the district’s recent audit report showed the district with a fund balance of $4,336,821 at the end of fiscal year 2013 (at the end of June). “I think we need to get the good news out.”

It wasn’t easy. As recently as 2009, the Carlton School District found itself $720,531 in the red, a negative balance which increased to $989,557 the next year. In 2011, the district began the long climb back into the black, ending that fiscal year down $752,000 and the next year (fiscal year 2012) just $91,709 in the red.

Deborah Medlin, CPA with the Wipfli CPA and Consultants firm, presented the Fiscal Year 2013 audit of the financial statements of Carlton Independent School District 93 at the School Board’s Nov. 18 meeting.

Haapala credited the district’s strong financial performance to watching expenditures and “right sizing” staffing levels within the district. District enrollment also appears to have stabilized and even grown slightly from last year.

“Of course, the support we got from the community in passing the operating referendum was critical,” he said, noting that the operational levy will continue through fiscal year 2018. “It would have been pretty tough to pull it off without them.”

Now comes the fun part.

“Instead of being in survival mode, we’re now in improvement mode,” Haapala said, explaining that the district is restarting its strategic planning process because the district’s financial and enrollment improvements “provide the district with the stability needed to begin planning for improvement in program areas that have, due to lack of funds, been neglected in the past.”

“This does not necessarily mean that we will now just add back programs that have existed in the past,” he elaborated. “Areas to be reviewed include curriculum, technology, professional learning and facilities.”

The School Board held its first planning meeting just over a week ago when members met as a Committee of the Whole with Troy Miller, the Eastern Region Leader and Education Unit Leader of TSP and then held a second meeting Monday night. Next Board members will attend a day-long retreat.

“Then we will start getting the stakeholders — staff, teachers, students and community members — involved,” Haapala said. “It’s a long process, but we’re hoping lots of people will contribute.”

In the meantime, Haapala said the district is planning to make some needed investments, buying two new school buses and likely investing in wireless technology that will make allow both schools to access wireless internet anywhere in the school. The school’s computers also probably need replacing, as Microsoft will not be supporting the operating systems in the older computers after April.

“That’s potentially a pretty big expenditure,” Haapala said. “But we’re looking at the 21st century and figuring out what we need to do to help our students succeed in tomorrow’s world.”

Along those lines, the superintendent noted that the school district already focuses on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum, but district officials and teachers are looking to broaden the focus to STEAM (adding Arts to the mix).

“When you add Arts, you have STEAM, and that gives you power to move forward,” he said.

Haapala asked any community members interested in helping with long-range strategic planning to please call the District Office at 218-384-4225.

 At its Dec. 9 meeting, three areas were identified that will be the focus of the School Board and administration moving forward, Haapala explained:

  •  The first was communication with stakeholders to develop consensus on who is Carlton Independent School District and where the district is going, celebrate the successes, and determine how to differentiate Carlton from surrounding districts.
  •  Secondly, the district needs to implement the tools for delivering the vision of the district, including curriculum and technology that will improve learning and facilities improvements that build upon successes.
  •  Third is to build a faculty and staff who can support the vision of the school district through professional learning that enhances student achievement and the hiring of new personnel with knowledge and skills needed to continue development toward the vision of the district.