The Carlton and Wrenshall school districts will delay a planned referendum until at least November after the Minnesota Legislature failed to take action on legislation district leaders say is needed for consolidation to move forward.
The Wrenshall School Board was scheduled to vote on pursuing an August 11 referendum during its meeting Monday, May 18. However, the 2020 legislative session ended without a change to a 2014 law to make school consolidations eligible for enhanced debt service equalization aid. The districts hoped the legislature would make the change before calling for the referendum to approve up to $40 million in construction at Wrenshall School and South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton.
The Carlton School Board scheduled a similar vote for a special meeting May 26.
Enhanced debt service equalization aid would require the consolidated district to take out the full amount of the bond and the state would contribute a portion of the annual debt service payment. Currently, schools can only use the mechanism if there is a natural disaster. Officials in Moose Lake took advantage of the legislation after the old building was damaged in the 2012 flood.
Ehlers, Inc., the districts’ financial advisor, estimates the state would contribute up to 46% of the total cost of the bond.
Officials from both districts have said they are not interested in consolidation without the state aid.
The legislation will be introduced again in a special session expected to be called by Gov. Tim Walz, but the session would likely not begin until June 12, according to Megan Rach, an aide to state Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Brook Park. The deadline to call for an August 11 referendum is May 29.
Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman and Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro met Reid LeBeau, the lobbyist guiding the legislation, earlier Monday.
“(LeBeau) is strongly advocating that it be reintroduced as part of a larger tax bill,” Carman told the board. “Which is what he was trying to do all along, so this would avoid needing to work with Sen. (Carla) Nelson on the education finance side.”
Rarick introduced the bill in February to the Senate Education Finance Committee. A hearing on the bill was scheduled for March 16, but was canceled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Previously, Carman has said Senate Tax Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, had shown support for the legislation in conversations she and Belcastro had with him.
LeBeau will update the boards at a joint meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 20.
All five Carlton board members present at the meeting said they favored continuing to move forward with the legislation and consolidation.
“I don’t like the delay, obviously,” Carlton Board Chair LaRae Lehto said. “I think it adds to the uncertainty and frustration. However, we can’t control COVID-19 and when the Legislature is able to meet. I think if the community and the (survey) results are telling us they want us to move forward with this and that delaying it from August to November would be preferable to scrapping it and moving on to a new plan.”