Tuition agreement talks between the Carlton and Cloquet school boards took a positive step forward on Monday, Nov. 8, when Carlton School Board Chairperson Julianne Emerson declared her full support of the proposal during the Carlton Committee of the Whole Meeting held in the school library.

The statement came ahead of the third subcommittee meeting between the boards scheduled for Monday, Nov. 15, at Cloquet High School, where members of the Carlton subcommittee will be given a tour of the facilities by Cloquet Superintendent Michael Cary and fellow subcommittee members before the 4:30 p.m. meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, Emerson began by providing insight into her deep-rooted connection to Carlton High School through her own experience as a graduate, as well as her family’s ties to the school.

“I grew up here. My dad was a teacher and coach here from 1969-1993. That gym down the way was where I grew up as a gym rat. This is the town I’ve lived in, and I graduated from this high school. My three kids graduated from Carlton,” Emerson said.

While the prospect of Carlton High School closing its doors is a harsh reality to come to terms with, she acknowledged that the opportunities for students offered by Cloquet provides excitement for the future.

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“For me, notwithstanding the emotional aspect, this is an exciting opportunity,” said Emerson. “(It’s) a creative way forward that would put us in the enviable position of being a thriving, dynamic district with a focus on early-learning and K-8 programs.”

A potential vote on the tuition agreement has not been set as the two sides continue to address its details with their shared attorney, John Edison of Rupp, Anderson, Squires and Waldspurger, P.A.

At the most recent subcommittee meeting on Oct. 25, Cary established a tentative deadline of February for when a finalized draft would be brought back to the respective boards. He said he hoped to have it ready before the start of high school registration, which takes place in early February, and would allow the district to coordinate onboarding for incoming students should a deal be reached.

Emerson was not alone in her support of the agreement. Board Treasurer Tim Hagenah also expressed positive feelings toward the agreement, citing a strong working relationship over the years between the two districts, especially when Carlton High School was in dire straits financially.

“All of the time that I’ve been on the board, Cloquet’s always been there to help us. When we were in SOD (Statutory Operating Debt), who did we talk to? Cloquet was the one that wanted to work with us," Hagenah said. “Cloquet would’ve done just about everything that they could have to help us in those times.”

The lone voice of moderate dissent was from board Vice Chairperson Sam Ojibway, who expressed concern about the impact the agreement would have on athletics, and whether Carlton’s athletes would be given a fair opportunity to make Cloquet’s varsity teams.

“It worries me that as a parent my kid wouldn’t get a fair shot walking on and trying out for the team. They already have their established varsity teams, and I’m not saying anything negative. I’m not saying that I’ve heard anything. I’m just saying as a parent that worries me that (my child) might not get a fair shot,” Ojibway said.

The tuition agreement topic will be addressed further at the next Carlton School Board meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 15. A public hearing on the tuition agreement will be held on Dec. 13 at Carlton High School.