Carlton-Wrenshall school consolidation remains uncertain | Pine Journal

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A year ago, the Carlton and Wrenshall school boards seemed to be expected to reach a two-point merger agreement, and a referendum would be held in the second half of 2020, requiring voters to approve nearly $40 million to improve regional facilities .

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the country, the Minnesota legislature failed to approve the changes required in the 2020 Guarantee Act to help build funds. Since then, new stumbling blocks have emerged, and the future merger of the two communities is still pending.

Both school boards will achieve large deals in 2021. In Carlton, board chairman LaRae Lehto and member Jennifer Chmielewski refused to run for re-election. They will be replaced by Erin Szymczak and former board member Julianne Emerson. In Wrenshall, members Janaki Fisher-Merritt, Matthew Laveau and Warren Weiderman will be replaced by Misty Bergman, Alice Kloepfer and Nicole Krisak.

The following is the merger of the board of directors into the new year.

The two committees initially came together in the summer of 2019 to begin merger negotiations and develop an agreement between the two places. The plan is to make Wrenshall School a junior and senior high school in the new district, and South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton will enroll students before K-5.

In May 2020, the board of directors each approved a review and comment document for submission to Minnesota, which is a necessary step before the referendum.

The document divides the referendum into two issues. The first issue is to require voters to approve $37.9 million in district facility repairs and renovations. The second problem was that an additional $1.7 million was needed to repair and renovate Wrenshall’s swimming pool.

If voters in both regions approve it, the cost of repairs on the Lenshall campus is approximately US$27 million. Wrenshall will become the middle and high school in the combined area. Repairs to the school will include converting the existing gymnasium into classroom space and constructing a new two-field gymnasium; establishing a 350-seat auditorium; and renovating and expanding the bus garage. The building will also include a $3.3 million new artificial turf stadium and track.

The $27 million figure does not include funds earmarked for swimming pool repairs.

The construction cost of approximately US$10 million for Carlton South Terrace will include adding additional classrooms and early childhood programming space; updating classrooms to promote student cooperation and group teaching; converting the existing gym to additional classroom space; and establishing new Sports halls and locker rooms are provided for physical education; cafeterias are updated to create public spaces that can be used by schools and communities.

Before submitting the review and comment documents, each school district conducted a survey to assess the community’s perception of the integration and facility plans.

The survey conducted by School Perceptions Inc. provided residents with three options: US$40.1 million to complete all projects, including swimming pools; US$38.4 million to complete all projects except the funding pool; or US$32.2 million to complete all Projects, except for the construction of auditoriums in Wrenshall and outdoor sports fields.

About 53% of Carlton residents responded that they would support a $38 million or $40 million bond referendum, and about 60% support one of the options in Wrenshall. According to Sue Peterson of the "School Sense" organization, the survey assumes that residents support the $40 million option, so they will also support $38 million.

In order for the merger plan to move forward, the referendum will require 50% or more votes in each region.

Although the community has expressed support for up to $40 million in renovations, the tax impact included in the survey is based on a legislative change that makes the school merger eligible for enhanced debt repayment equal assistance.

Enhanced debt repayment equalization assistance will require the consolidated district to bear the entire bond amount, but the state government will pay up to 46% of the annual bond payment. Currently, schools can use this mechanism only in the event of a natural disaster. This is the route taken by Moose Lake officials after the old buildings were damaged in the 2012 flood.

This legislation was introduced by Senator Jason Rarick, R-Brook Park and Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko) in February 2019. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country, the bill was deadlocked. The legislature finally passed a linking bill, but the required changes were not included in the final draft.

The members of the two school councils stated that they did not want to merge without strengthening equal assistance for debt repayment.

In a December conference call with Carlton Governor John Engstrom and Wrenshall Governor Kim Belcastro, Reid LeBeau, a lobbyist hired to guide the legislation, expressed positive about the 2021 approval. The bill also received the support of R-Lino Senator Rob Chamberlain. Lakes, the new chairman of the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.

If the legislation is approved in the spring, these regions may have a referendum in August 2021.

In August, another obstacle to merger emerged.

A tax impact study conducted by Ehlers, a financial adviser in the region, shows that Carlton taxpayers’ tax growth will be larger than that of Wrenshall taxpayers.

If the debt is shared equally, a Carleton taxpayer with a residential homestead worth $150,000 will add $265 to the district’s tax share, and a similar property in Wrenshall will add $104.

If the districts divide existing debts, then the $150,000 house of Carlton taxpayers will increase by $234, and the taxpayers of Lenshall will increase by $149.

The community survey received very little support in Carlton, only showing an increase in taxes related to facility improvements. It does not show the total impact of the merger.

A resolution to separate the merger from the debt failed to win the support of Carlton’s board of directors at the December 21 meeting.

At a meeting in October, Bercastro told the Joint Referendum Committee that she believes that unless the debt is evenly distributed, the merger “will not be confident”.

In December, the Carlton Board of Directors received an estimate of the cost of facility improvements needed for the region to advance independently.

InGensa, a Minneapolis design company, has drawn up some preliminary plans and cost estimates to expand South Terrace into a pre-K-8 facility and convert it to a pre-K-12 school.

South Terrace occupies 54,000 square feet, which includes middle school students, and is estimated to cost approximately $23 million, which will add $306 to the tax bill for residential homesteads worth $150,000 each year. The K-8 option requires a tuition agreement with the neighbouring area for students to attend high school. Mention of rackets is a possible choice.

This $34.5 million plan will convert South Terrace into a pre-K-12 school, which will cost an additional $506 per year for owners with a $150,000 home.

At the December 21 meeting, a motion to cancel the K-12 plan as a contingency plan failed to win the support of the Carlton Board of Directors.

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