Carlton school district considers its future as deficit grows
The Carlton Board of Education is placing several options on the table as talks with the Wrenshall board continue to falter, including consolidation with other districts and potentially dissolving the district.
Carlton school board members spent most of their meeting Monday, March 18, discussing part of its strategic plan for the future.
In addition to consolidation with Wrenshall, "Vision Component #4" of the Carlton District's Strategic Plan draft for 2019-24 is primarily concerned with the district's facilities. It includes three other action steps:
• Exploring options for consolidation with other neighboring districts;
• Assessing the needs of the middle and high school facility and alternative uses of the building; and
• Providing information on the costs and impact on the community of dissolving the district.
Carlton and Wrenshall school board members have exchanged letters since the fall in an attempt to jump-start consolidation talks. However, the Wrenshall board has been adamant that any discussions include only a "two-site model," with an elementary school at South Terrace in Carlton and a 7-12 middle and high school in Wrenshall.
Two Carlton board members, Jennifer Chmielewski and Vice Chair Ann Gustafson, have supported engaging with the Wrenshall board on its terms and agreeing to the two-site option.
The four other members — Chair LaRae Lehto, Tim Hagenah, Sam Ojibway and Sue Karp — have been hesitant to agree to a two-site option before discussions begin.
In February, the board received a letter from Wrenshall board Chair Matthew Laveau rejecting Carlton's latest offer to revive talks and hire a neutral facilitator to guide negotiations. Laveau's letter was at the center of a discussion about the strategic plan and vision for Carlton. Discussions hit a roadblock on how — or even if — to respond to Laveau's letter.
After more than an hour of debate Monday among five of the six board members — Karp was absent — Lehto suggested adding a second Committee of the Whole meeting in April to discuss the strategic plan and attempt to build consensus on the board regarding the district's future.
The board unanimously voted to continue the conversation at a future meeting and send a letter acknowledging receipt of Laveau's letter. It also informs Wrenshall the Carlton board members plan to continue discussing the matter among themselves before engaging in further communication with Wrenshall.
The board had not yet determined the date of the second Committee of the Whole meeting as of press time.
In addition to rejecting the Carlton overtures, the Wrenshall board is moving forward with a $14.4 million bond referendum May 14. The board is seeking voter approval for major renovations and additions to the school.
This is the third time since April 2017 the Wrenshall district has asked voters to approve money to improve the building. In November, voters rejected a similar $13 million referendum question by just 52 votes.
Carlton district deficit climbs
As its board continues to discuss a path forward for the district, the projected deficit in the Carlton School District budget for fiscal year 2019 has grown by more than $11,000 to $305,848 since it was approved in June.
The increased deficit is the result of lower-than-expected enrollment combined with contract settlements and expenditures in "technology and curriculum resources," according to an email from Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman. She also told the board the budget would likely be amended further before the end of the fiscal year.
The deficit would have been much larger, but the sale of district's buses to 4.0 Student Services in July generated $248,228 in additional revenue for 2019. Carlton now contracts with the company for transportation services.
While the board begins contemplating budget reductions for fiscal year 2020, it also voted to place a teacher on unrequested leave of absence at the end of the school year. The precautionary move was made because enrollment numbers could cause the full-time position to be reduced or eliminated for the next school year.
Cassandra Korzendorfer, a middle school language arts teacher, is tenured, requiring the district to notify her by April 1. Korzendorfer was notified of the potential change and the potential board action before Monday's meeting, Carman said.
Carman also told the board that if any other teaching positions are reduced or eliminated, it would be a non-tenured teacher, and the April 1 deadline doesn't apply.
The measure passed 3-2, with board members Jennifer Chmielewski and Ann Gustafson opposed.
Carman told the board she anticipates having specific spending reductions prepared for the board's Committee of the Whole meeting at 7 p.m. April 4 in the high school media center.