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Carlton school district residents invited to public meeting Tuesday

Residents who have been complaining for months that communication with the Carlton School Board is always one-way will get their chance to engage in a two-way conversation on Tuesday — and so will board members.

The Carlton School District will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the small gym at Carlton High School.

The subject? How to move forward as a small school district with aging facilities and safety needs after voters overwhelmingly rejected a $23 million to $27 million facilities bond referendum in August.

Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman said the purpose of the public meeting is to inform all interested residents of the background and different options open to the school district, and let them know what the board has learned about those options over the past months. After providing background, she said board members will listen to public comments and answer questions from students, staff, parents and other community members.

"We're hoping for a really strong turnout, and that people will stay (even after they speak) and listen to everyone else," Carman said.

In a phone interview with the Pine Journal, Carman stressed that the board hasn't made any decisions about facility improvements at either school.

She said they will discuss all seven different future options for the school district at the meeting Tuesday:

• Do nothing to significantly address facility needs.

• Make significant repairs at the high school and/or South Terrace Elementary School via non-voter-approved financing.

• Try to pass a smaller referendum for repairs at just the high school.

• Pursue consolidation negotiations with Wrenshall.

• Pursue consolidation negotiations with Cloquet.

• Determine the tax impact of consolidation versus a South Terrace project. What would have less tax impact?

• Dissolve the district.

When presented with the options in August, the board voted to pursue options 2 and 5.

The consolidation talks with Cloquet ended after two meetings.

As for making repairs at one or both schools with non-voter-approved financing, Carman previously said the board has been discussing the costs of repairing each school — the high school is much older and needs considerably more work — but that doesn't necessarily mean the board would vote to make repairs to both schools.

Project costs that could be covered by non-voter-approved bonding broke down to $4.95 million at South Terrace and $8.69 million at Carlton High School.

Rarely mentioned, but also a consideration, is the fact that the county would likely want to purchase the high school property if it were shut down, since the school is adjacent to the county courthouse and jail facilities.

As for consolidation with Wrenshall, Carman didn't want to comment.

"I'd rather have people just come to the meeting and I will talk about it," she said.

The two small neighboring school districts have gone through two rounds of consolidations talks over the past three years.

The first was initiated by the Carlton School District, and the second by a group of residents unhappy that the two boards were unable to reach an agreement the first time around.

Both times, the two boards agreed that one K-12 school was the best option, but each board preferred a site in its own town.

Since then, the Wrenshall board has indicated it's willing to talk about different options including the more palatable (to many residents) two-site option; however, Carman pointed out that the last time the two boards formally communicated regarding consolidation was April 2016.

State Sen. Tony Lourey told the Pine Journal he intends to try again to get the Legislature to pass a bill that would offer additional financing to consolidating school districts.