Legislation to boost Carlton, Wrenshall consolidation a ‘big lift,’ lawmakers say

School board members from Carlton and Wrenshall say they don't want to move forward on consolidation until a 2014 law is changed.

School board members from Carlton and Wrenshall met with state Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Brook Park, and Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, Friday, Jan. 24, to advocate for a legislative change they say they need if the two districts combine.

The school board members would like to see a 2014 law make school consolidations eligible for enhanced debt equalization. Enhanced debt equalization would require the consolidated district to take out the full bond amount, but the state would pay up to 46% of the annual bond payment for the district. Currently, schools can only use the mechanism if there is a natural disaster. Officials in Moose Lake took advantage of the legislation after the old building was damaged in the 2012 flood.

Representatives of both districts have indicated they do not want to move forward on consolidation without enhanced debt equalization.


Sundin reminded the boards consolidation was originally included in the 2014 legislation, but was taken out after talks between Carlton and Wrenshall fell apart. After decades of failed talks between the two districts, Sundin asked why 2020 would be different.
Wrenshall Vice Chair Janaki Fisher-Merritt said he thought the results of a community survey would provide clarity about voter support of consolidation and the level of funding they would support via referendum. The survey — conducted by School Perceptions independent research firm — asks voters’ opinions on a number of different plans to renovate the two sites.


If the Legislature approves the law change, voters in both districts would need to approve a consolidation plan in a referendum currently scheduled for Aug. 11. School Perceptions boasts a 98% success rate on referendums that follow its recommendations.

The boards will present the results of the survey at a joint meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, at South Terrace.

The two boards have been working toward consolidating the school districts since the summer. They put together a plan that would pour up to $40 million in renovations and expansions to Wrenshall School and South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton. Under the plans discussed, Wrenshall would become the new middle and high school and South Terrace would be the combined district’s preK-5 school.

Sundin said he was ready to work for the change, but he and Rarick need to know how serious the boards are since there are other priorities for District 11 in the upcoming legislative session.

“I’ve got no problem zealously pursuing this down in St. Paul if that’s the will of the people,” Sundin said. “But you know we’ve got a jail, Enbridge ... it’s a big lift. I don’t mind doing it if that’s the will of the people, but let’s not be pollyannaish about it.”

The districts have an advantage with both a Republican and a Democrat working for the change, but Rarick encouraged members of the board and others to go to St. Paul to advocate for themselves.

“If your community is really behind this, the more you can get down and help us talk, the better,” Rarick said. “We can help guide you to the committee chairs and know who the important people are. That is a big piece.”


Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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