Barnum school officials are considering hiring a strategic planning company to help design future goals and strategies for the district — a future that could potentially include Carlton High School students.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a strenuous financial situation, district officials have sought new ways to engage the community and plan for the future, leading to a push for the implementation of strategic planning.

According to Superintendent Mike McNulty, this will be the first time in recent history that the district will participate in a strategic planning process.

Board Treasurer Jessica Unkelhaeuser urged the School Board on Tuesday, April 6, to move forward in the process, explaining that strategic planning has been needed for a long time. She believes it will allow the Barnum community to be progressive and proactive instead of reactive.

“I’m really excited about the potential,” board member Stephanie Ferrin said. “I think (it) is something that could be very valuable to engage the whole community.”

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McNulty said the finance committee recently met with three strategic planning companies, and will bring final options before the board for a vote April 20, after which the process will begin soon after.

Conversations will start this spring with school staff regarding changes they would like to see in the district, and will then move to the community for discussions throughout the summer.

Board Clerk Paul Coughlin emphasized the need for a respectful and inclusive conversation about plans for the school, referencing a “disrespectful and traumatic” past.

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He said he believes this goal can be accomplished through the listening and planning sessions that are set to take place throughout the strategic planning process.

“It’s a clean slate for all of us and it’s an opportunity to move forward together,” Ferrin said.

According to the board, strategic planning will also be key to preventing future budget cuts and infrastructure issues.

As the school building continues to age, having professionals identify needed repairs before they become urgent will be key to avoiding future emergencies, Ferrin said.

Coughlin echoed this sentiment, adding that preventative care is also needed for school finances in order to avoid cuts. He and McNulty each explained that the change will be gradual, with changes and discussions extending well into the district's future.

“It’s not going to be fixed in six months or a year,” Coughlin said. “We’re on a tight budget, and we’re trying to rebuild … These answers will mean something.”

The district has managed to mitigate reductions, with the exception of eliminating one high school secretary position, but Coughlin said they need to begin identifying target projects and funding sources before next year’s budget is made.

With enrollment numbers leveling and no operational levy in place, Barnum has begun looking for ways to collaborate with other districts, like transportation. It has also entered into discussions with Carlton High School about a possible tuition agreement.

Carlton, which has agreed to pause consolidation talks with Wrenshall, is seeking a new partner to help educate high school students in case the Carlton High School building is sold.

McNulty said nothing has been decided, but that Barnum has offered a helping hand to Carlton.

He explained that if Barnum were to educate Carlton students, the Carlton district would still be responsible for the transportation and financial cost of its students.

Board Chair Beth Schatz said Carlton officials seemed excited about the potential partnership, and that there will likely be more conversations down the road as Carlton decides its next course of action.

This story was updated at 1 p.m. April 16 to clarify the paused talks of consolidation between the Wrenshall and Carlton school districts. It was originally posted at 7 a.m. April 11.