Carlton school district reports good news

Things are looking better for the Carlton School District. For the first time in years, the district will not spend more than it makes. Student numbers have stabilized. The Department of Defense just gave the district more than 100 refurbished co...

Out with the old, in with the new
Eighth-grader Hannah Benson and ninth-grader Jessie Stanslaski and the rest of the Carlton volleyball team take a break from practice to help carry old computer monitors out to a trailer to make room for new computers donated to the school by the Department of Defense, an equipment grant made possible by Carlton alumnus Lt. Col. Jerry Martin. Jana Peterson/

Things are looking better for the Carlton School District.

For the first time in years, the district will not spend more than it makes. Student numbers have stabilized. The Department of Defense just gave the district more than 100 refurbished computers. The state increased its per pupil payments by $50. Even being in debt has a bright side, because Carlton will receive 90 percent of its state aid during the school year while other - financially healthy - school districts will only receive 60 percent.

"The ship appears to have turned around and we are headed in the right direction," Carlton Superintendent Peter Haapala said Wednesday. "We're starting to hear good things in the community, too. It's a plus to hear positive statements."

A year ago, the newly arrived superintendent was working frantically with school board and community members to come up with not one, but four, different plans to get the district out of statutory operating debt (SOD) by a state-mandated Aug. 31 deadline. At the same time, district supporters were trying to convince people to vote in favor of a higher operating levy than the one they had voted down in the spring. Looming over all the issues was the very real threat that the district would be dissolved and the Bulldogs would bark no more.

Haapala said the district is in a much better place now. Then he rattled off a list of good things that had happened since last summer.


"Over the past year, we got an SOD plan approved by the state and we passed a referendum in November," he said, referring to the excess levy of $1,100 per pupil unit that voters passed overwhelmingly last fall. "Our board is working together and understanding what needs to be done, and they made the reductions we needed to make this spring. Those four things are huge."

The combination of added revenue from the referendum and cuts has put the district on the path out of SOD, a goal the district should reach as of June 30, 2013, according to the latest district worksheet.

"That community support was critical to turning things around," Haapala said.

Still, getting out of SOD has meant making difficult decisions. The superintendent praised the school board, which started the year with four (out of six) new board members.

In the spring, board members approved close to $300,000 in cuts, including reducing a little over five FTE (full-time equivalents)

teaching positions, most of those at the high school where the student/teacher ratio was lower than the state average. A half-time position was cut at Carlton's South Terrace Elementary School.

According to the district's most recent SOD worksheet, the board will need to make another $338,000 in cuts - or find revenue sources to offset that figure - for the 2012-2013 school year as well, in order to be out of debt by the June 2013 date.

In addition to the levy funds - which started coming into district coffers in January ­- the district is also changing its health insurance policy to a "consumer-directed health plan," which Haapala explained means higher deductibles and lower premiums. As well, in 2013, the district will qualify for an estimated $129,730 in state "small schools revenue," which targets school districts with fewer than 1,000 students.


And then there are the impossible-to-predict bonuses, like the phone call from Carlton alumnus Lt. Col. Jerry Martin last spring, asking if the district could use some refurbished computers from the United States Department of Defense. In the end, the district received more than 100 computers from the DOD, including desktop and laptop computers.

On Wednesday morning, the entire volleyball team carried bulky computer monitors out of the two high school computer labs to make room for the new flat screen monitors and computer towers. Something similar was set to happen over at the South Terrace computer lab.

"I think it's great," said business education teacher Cheri Splinter, pointing out that the old monitors were close to 20 years old and the hard drives were nearly half that age. "We've been putting Band Aids on our computers for a long time."

Haapala said new computers were not a part of the district's budget so the donation was a very happy surprise.

"Now we will look like we're in the 21st Century instead of the 1990s," he said, gesturing at the new flat screen monitors. "It will be good to have all the same model computers and they will use less energy, too.

"I'd like to meet this guy sometime," he added, smiling.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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