Legislation that would help pay for nearly $40 million in upgrades and expansions at Wrenshall and South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton has been put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro and Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman were told on Sunday, March 15 to be ready to testify at a Minnesota Senate Education Finance Committee hearing Monday in St. Paul.

State Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Brook Park, called the pair Monday, March 16 to inform them the Minnesota Legislature had canceled hearings and other business until April 14 to prevent the spread of the virus.

Rarick introduced a bill in February to the Senate that would make school consolidations available for enhanced debt equalization. Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, introduced similar legislation in the House.

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Enhanced debt equalization would require the consolidated district to take out the full bond amount for the construction, but the state would up to 46% of the annual bond payment for the district. Currently, schools can only use the mechanism in the event of a natural disaster. Officials in Moose Lake took advantage of the legislation after the old building was damaged in the 2012 flood.

Representatives of both districts have indicated they do not want to move forward on consolidation without enhanced debt equalization.

Carlton and Wrenshall board members have been working to prepare for an Aug. 11 referendum, but it could be delayed if the legislative change is not approved by May 29. The schools have until May 29 to call for an August vote and a delay would move the referendum to at least Nov. 4.

Carman said the boards haven’t discussed the possibility of a later referendum, and its effect on consolidation is unclear.

“A later referendum would reduce planning time for programming, policy and construction for a July 1, 2021, consolidation,” Carman said in an email. “Because it goes into another school year and the uncertainty of the outcome of a November vote, it may impact parents' August 2020 choice of school enrollment.”

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