The Carlton School Board declined to make any decisions related to consolidation with Wrenshall or its long term facilities plan during its board meeting Monday, Dec. 21.
A trio of resolutions failed to garner majority support from a board that will add two new members in January. The resolutions were aimed at debt sharing with Wrenshall if the districts consolidate, adding dissolution of the district to its list of long term options and eliminating an option to build a Pre-K-12 school at South Terrace Elementary School.
Board member Tim Hagenah asked the board to vote to prevent taxpayers in Carlton from sharing the districts’ existing debt in a consolidation with Wrenshall.
A tax impact study in August conducted by Ehlers, the districts’ financial advisor, showed Carlton taxpayers would be disproportionately impacted by consolidation. The districts negotiated for much of 2019 and early 2020 on a $40 million facilities plan to renovate Wrenshall School and South Terrace Elementary School. The study showed Carlton taxpayers would see a larger tax increase than their counterparts in Wrenshall.
Carlton taxpayers with a residential homestead valued at $150,000 would see a $265 increase in the school district’s share of the levy if the debt was shared equally, where a similar property in Wrenshall would see an increase of $104.
If the districts kept the existing debt separate, Carlton taxpayers would see an increase of $234 on a $150,000 home and Wrenshall taxpayers would see a $149 increase.
Board member Ann Gustafson warned the board that approving the consolidation restriction would likely cause the Wrenshall board to abandon negotiations. She also noted the other options the board was presented last week — including a Pre-K-8 school and a Pre-K-12 school, both at South Terrace — were more expensive than sharing debt equally with Wrenshall.
“The difference in sharing the debt is $31,” Gustafson said. “If we don’t make this happen with Wrenshall, people are going to vote it off the table or vote to go on to another option that has a pretty good chance of not passing. Then we’re going to be four years down the road and basically be forced into dissolution because we won’t have enough money to operate.”
Board members Sam Ojibway and LaRae Lehto joined Gustafson and Jennifer Chmielewski in voting the motion down, not because they support debt sharing, but because they felt it should be left to the next board to decide. Lehto and Chmielewski are both leaving the board at the end of the year.
“I understand the motion, I get it,” Ojibway said. “I am against sharing the debt, although I don’t feel this is the right circumstance to be discussing this.”
Dissolution motion fails
Following the vote on debt sharing, Chmielewski asked the board to consider adding dissolution of the district to the list of long range planning options being considered by the board, a move that provoked a strong response from Lehto.
“I think dissolution has no business being on the table for a district that is talking about other viable options on the table, a district that’s in decent financial health,” Lehto said. "Yes, we need to make some changes. We know we need a long range plan moving forward ... I don’t think it’s a word we should even be using. It takes all control and ability to make decisions away from the board and away from the administration. It sends a terrible message to teachers, to families and to students, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Gustafson joined Chmielewski in supporting the motion, but Lehto, Ojibway, Karp and Hagenah voted against it.
Chmielewski also made a motion to strike the option to build a $34 million Pre-K-12 facility at South Terrace, but the vote failed along the same lines.