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Guest Commentary: Carlton referendum not affordable for all

There has been much discussion about the Carlton school bond referendum for a new school and everyone has an opinion. I have to believe everyone cares about the kids, as they are the future, and feel it is unfair to say those who may vote “No” don’t care about them. People have differing opinions on what is best for the kids and different reasons for the way they will vote, yet each deserves to be respected.

Minnesota contains 853 cities and 1,790 townships; however, there are only 328 public school districts in the state. Is it a school that makes the community? I am sure many people residing in townships and cities without schools feel they live in strong, vibrant, thriving communities.

If the referendum does pass, we gain a new building for an extremely high school property tax increase: 105 percent increase for Question 1, and 122 percent for Question 2, using my own valuation and Ehlers estimator on the school website. Coupled with our high operating levy, it would have us paying the highest school taxes in Carlton County. Would that buy us the best educational programs and buildings? Would it bring in more students even though the population of northeastern Minnesota is aging and growth remains flat through 2045? An Applied Insights report for the district shows the number of students living in the Carlton School District declined by 20 percent from 2006-07 to 2015-16. Buildings won’t draw people to northern Minnesota; job growth will.

Can everyone in the district afford that huge of an increase? Our diverse economic community has those who can and those who cannot, for varying reasons, from fixed income retirees to “fixed income” working people. They may be people who already do not spend “$1.37 per day” ($150,000 valuation) for something they can supposedly give up for this referendum. They may be informed about the utility tax court lawsuits that will impact us. Perhaps they are questioning the size of the proposed building for the declining district enrollment. They may be looking at the whole issue on a broader scale. At a public school board meeting, one school board member said, “If it passes and they do not like it, they can move. We do not say where they have to live.” Maybe I am wrong, but that does not seem community oriented or fair to those who truly cannot afford it, who may have lived here as community members for 40, 50 or 60-plus years.

School board members can be replaced in elections and if Wrenshall’s bond vote was any indication, and depending on Carlton’s, perhaps that will occur at the next election. I have run into many people who are opposed to Carlton’s bond referendum, but who would be open to support a bond levy, if needed, if the two districts consolidated. That would offer everyone more. The kids could enjoy better buildings, more academics, sports and co-curricular opportunities, and more diversity. The taxpayers could enjoy a broader tax-base and be able to handle a more affordable tax increase. The community could enjoy coming together to collaborate with our neighbors and friends, to benefit all.

Brenda Tischer is a former school board member, parent of two successful Carlton graduates currently attending college, and engaged in local area government.

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