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Guest editorial: Big spending in Carlton schools

On Monday, Jan. 22, the Carlton school board approved the bond documents to spend about $5.6 million on South Terrace Elementary and some on the high school. This was a 5-1 vote (Julianne Emerson, Susan Karp, Timothy Hagenah, Stephanie Gibson and LaRae Lehto, yes; Jennifer Chmielewski, no).

These are health and safety bonds and abatement bonds — voter approval not required. Of the $5.6 million, about $1 million is consultant fees, which were handed to Ingesa, the consultant, without any other proposals, even though the public repeatedly requested competitive quotes. Their fee is $500,000 to $750,000 higher than what would be typical for this scope of work based on the public checking with other firms. Congratulations to Ingesa.

About $400,000 in abatement bonding is being spent on the high school in parking lot reconstruction.

In prior meetings, the public offered suggestions about reducing this cost, while decisions could be made in coming years about the future of this very old facility. The school board voted to spend the maximum allowed. On South Terrace, the public suggested testing to determine if a $2.3 million dehumidification system was really needed. The answer by Superintendent Gwen Carmen was the state allows for health and safety bonding to be spent on this type of system, so it has been included in the spending request.

The public checked with Hermantown Schools, which installed a dehumidification system to mitigate a documented moisture intrusion problem they have. It costs them $10,000 per month to run it. Can we afford that?

Board also voted 4-2 (Emerson, Karp, Hagenah and Gibson, yes; Chmielewski and Lehto, no) to spend another $10,000 to hire another consultant to conduct public meetings so that they could get more public input and discuss many topics important to the district. This was done is spite of Chmielewski's suggestion to update the strategic visioning done by another consultant in 2014 at a lower cost.

In February, the board will be discussing spending an additional $9 million on the high school. Same type of funding; no voter approval required.

Investment in this school system is required. I'm simply pointing this out because the spending has to be smart and targeted, doesn't it? Or, maybe this all OK with everyone?

It's all real; it's happening; and it's legal. Local government can affect your life more than any other branch of government. Your life is busy like mine, isn't it? You don't have time to be engaged? You don't like boring meetings? Someone else will do it? You don't like conflict?

Neither do I, but I live here with my family. It is hard to watch.

Be prepared to work a little harder, because you've been required to pay more than retail, and they are just getting started.

Have a nice day.