Group wants voters to weigh in on Wrenshall/Carlton school consolidation

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On Monday, members of both the Carlton and Wrenshall school boards got an email letter, informing them that a group of concerned citizens are hoping to put the question of consolidating the two rural schools to a vote — at the ballot box.

The move comes almost eight months after discussions between the two neighboring school districts/school boards ended when neither side was willing to give up having a school in its town. At that time, the Wrenshall board voted in favor of consolidation … if the facility choice would be to make updates and improvements to the Wrenshall site. The Carlton board voted 3-3 ... but at least half the board wanted to see the South Terrace Elementary School as the site for a combined K-12 school.

Since then, both school districts have been mum on the issue.

Members of the new “Better Together!” group, however, aren’t ready to let it drop. And they’re not alone.

“People seemed to be truly discouraged that the study got so far and then fell apart,” wrote Mandi Rosebrock, a former Carlton School Board member and mother of three young children. “There are so many folks out there who truly believe that our two small school districts would be better together ... it is our goal to help be a voice for these folks and also to let the voices of ALL of the residents of both districts be heard in the ballot box.”

So far they have about 100 signatures on a petition, and that’s without really putting a lot of effort into reaching out yet.

“We haven’t been hitting the streets really, just passing it between families and their neighbors,” Rosebrock said in an interview, adding that residents of either school district can sign copies of the petition at The Streetcar Kitchen & Pub, 232 Chestnut Ave., Carlton, and at the Carlton Public Library, 213 Chestnut Ave.

That’s already enough signatures to get the issue on the election ballot in November 2016, Rosebrock said, adding that they’d like to submit the petition to County Auditor Paul Gassert next month but would love to have even more signatures.

According to Minnesota State Statute 123A.48, a school board in the area can pass a resolution to consolidate or a petition “executed by 25 percent of the voters resident in the area proposed for consolidation or by 50 such voters, whichever is less” can do the same. The statute outlines in detail what must be proposed in the resolution or petition.

(Editor’s note: Read the full text of the petition with this story online at www.pinejournal.com.)

If the consolidation question goes to a vote and passes in both school districts, the districts would be forced to consolidate, explained Mike Hoheisel, a school finance consultant with Robert W. Baird and Co. in Minneapolis. (Hoheisel was a consultant for the Carlton and Wrenshall school boards when the two districts were actively exploring consolidation.)

If the vote failed, that would most likely be the end of it.

Hoheisel said many of details on the consolidation could be worked out prior to the vote and the facility details may be a part of the detail. However, the facility details along with grade placements at each site do not have to be worked out prior to the consolidation vote. If that is the case, Hoheisel said in response to an email question from the Pine Journal, the newly consolidated school board along with district administration will have an opportunity to decide the new facility configuration along with what grades are placed at a given facility.

This isn’t the first grassroots effort regarding consolidation efforts between the two school districts. While not composed of exactly the same people, the previous CAWS (Carlton and Wrenshall Schools) group pushed for the two boards to explore consolidation, while Better Together! members are picking up where they left off and advocating to let the voters decide what they want.

The petition (see the complete text in “Petition to vote on consolidation” next to this story), calls for two school sites: the existing site in Wrenshall and South Terrace in Carlton. Which one would be elementary and which one would be secondary would have to be worked out in the future, if the vote to consolidate is successful, Rosebrock said.

The website, wrenshallcarltonbettertogether.com. lists the top five reasons for consolidating, summarized here: common sense; sustainability; increased resources for academics, arts and athletics; maintain small school atmosphere; and the fact that residents of the two small communities have more in common than not.

“Two districts with graduating classes of about 30, three miles apart and surrounded by four other school districts, is no longer an effective use of community resources and tax dollars,” the website reads. “A consolidated district will help stabilize enrollment and make one competitive district.”

Even though two school sites is not as efficient as one in terms of busing, food prep, heating and cooling costs, and maintenance, potential savings would be realized by having just one superintendent, one food service director, one transportation director and one buildings-and-grounds director for the newly consolidated district, plus “right sizing” other staff throughout the district.

State money could be a factor too.

“There’s quite a bit of state incentive to consolidate,” Rosebrock pointed out.

In a presentation to the two school boards in January, Hoheisel said consolidated districts are eligible for state aid for the consolidation transition, amounting to $200 per pupil unit (resident) the year of consolidation and $100 per pupil unit the year after, which he said would amount to a total of approximately $292,620 for Carlton/Wrenshall if they were to consolidate.

In January, Hoheisel said there is also a new state grant incentive in place that offers funding to qualified consolidating or cooperating school districts for the construction of a new facility or for the remodeling and improving of an existing facility. The grant for new construction may not exceed $20 million or 75 percent of the approved cost of the consolidated facility, whichever is less, and a grant for remodeling and improving an existing facility cannot exceed $10 million or 75 percent of the remodeling costs.

Another thing Hoheisel said is that the Minnesota Department of Education wants districts to consolidate at the beginning of an odd year.

That means the application for the state construction/remodeling funds would be due by July 1, 2017, if voters approved consolidation in November of next year.

Hoheisel estimated a combined school district would still be fairly small, with approximately 800 students in grades K-12.

That’s perfect, said Rosebrock.

“We could retain the small school setting, but have more programming, more classes, more extracurriculars,” she said. “Carlton and Wrenshall are in a beautiful area with so much to offer. Like one of our friends said, ‘They’re just surviving when they could be thriving.’”

PETITION TO VOTE ON CONSOLIDATION

Petition to Consolidate Independent School Districts 93, Carlton and 100, Wrenshall

1) Summary Statement of Purpose: By this petition, the Citizens of I.S.D. 93, Carlton Public School District and I.S.D. 100, Wrenshall Public School District are requesting the duly elected Chief Deputy Auditor/Treasurer of Carlton County to include the question of consolidation under MS 123A.48 of Carlton Public School District and Wrenshall Public School District on the next possible election ballot. The proposed consolidation will initially utilize a two site option consisting of the Wrenshall School and the Carlton South Terrace School. It is the hope that a consolidated district will initially save an annual cost of 1-1.5 million dollars.

2) Location of Affected Area: Carlton County contains all of the land comprising the two Districts of I.S.D. 93, Carlton Public School District and I.S.D. 100, Wrenshall Public School District. Carlton and Wrenshall each contain over 18 sections of land, so the enlarged Consolidated District will contain over 18 sections of land satisfying the criteria set forth in MS 123A48, subdivision 1.

3) Bonded Debt: The existing bonded debt will remain the sole obligation of the taxable property located in each respective District until the debt matures.

4) Capital Loans and Energy Loans: Neither Carlton, nor Wrenshall has any energy loans or capital loans.

5) Referendum Levies: i. The referendum revenue authorizations previously approved by the voters of I.S.D. 93, Carlton (through FY 2018) and by the voters of I.S.D. 100 Wrenshall (through FY 2023) pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Section 126C.17, Subdivision 9 or its predecessor provisions will be combined and continued as provided in Minnesota Statutes, Section 123A.73, Subdivision 4 or 5. ii. The referendum revenue authorization for the newly created Consolidated District shall be the revenue per the adjusted pupil unit that would raise an amount equal to the combined dollar amount of the referendum revenues authorized by each of its component districts for the year preceding consolidation. iii. The referendum revenue authorization for the newly created school district shall continue for a period of time equal to the longest period of time authorized in either of its component school districts.

6) Board Member Transition Plans i. When the reduction process is complete the newly created district will have six board members. The reduction will begin in 2017 with the termination of three positions. The reduction process will continue in 2019 with the termination of three positions.

7) School Board Election Area, the newly consolidated district will retain 6 school board seats.