The Carlton School Board approved its 2020-21 budget — one that includes a projected deficit of more than $450,000 — during its meeting Monday, June 15.

Board members LaRae Lehto, Sue Karp, Tim Hagenah, Sam Ojibway and Ann Gustafson voted to approve the budget and Jennifer Chmielewski voted against it.

Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman said the budget used conservative estimates for revenue, and was based on a projected enrollment of around 380 students next year — a drop of about 45 from 2019-20.

The budget included a 2% pay increase for teachers in 2020-21 under the district’s contract with the Carlton Education Association. The Carlton board unanimously approved a new two-year contract in 2019 that included 2% raises in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Since last year, Carlton has made more than $300,000 in reductions to salary costs — including cutting two teacher positions in April — to try to balance its budget. However, district leaders estimate a 15% increase in health benefits and a drop of nearly $300,000 in revenue.

Declining enrollment is among the reasons for the district’s decreased funding. In 2019-20, 304 students left the district — more than 50% of those living in Carlton — according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Open-enrolled students take the funding the school would receive from the state and federal governments with them to their new district.

While the deficit spending continues to be a problem for the district — this is the fourth consecutive year with a projected deficit — Carlton has retained a relatively healthy unassigned fund balance. After a deficit of more than $300,000 in 2018-19, the district retained more than $1 million in its unassigned fund. The unassigned fund will drop after another deficit in 2019-20, but Carman said she couldn’t project the amount, but it would be less than the anticipated $580,000 deficit from last year.

“I recognize the budget is unsettling, but I do recommend it for approval,” Carman said. “I will say as I've said many times, we know that this is not sustainable. It is very important that a long term plan for the Carlton district be determined as soon as possible. Again, not that the district isn't fiscally sound, but a budget like this is not sustainable across years.”

For most of the last year, Carlton has engaged in negotiations with Wrenshall to consolidate districts.