The Wrenshall School Board voted unanimously to submit documents for review and comment to the Minnesota Department of Education for a referendum on August 11. An hour later and a few miles away, Carlton board members LaRae Lehto, Ann Gustafson, Jennifer Chmielewski and Sue Karp voted for the action, while Tim Hagenah and Sam Ojibway voted for the action. voted against the plan.
The review and comment paper submitted by the councils to the state would split the referendum into two questions. The first question would ask voters to approve $ 37.9 million for repairs and renovations to Wrenshall School and South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton.
The second referendum question would ask for an additional $ 1.7 million to repair and renovate the Wrenshall swimming pool.
If approved by voters in both districts, the Wrenshall campus would benefit from around $ 27 million in repairs. Wrenshall would become the middle and high school in a consolidated neighborhood. Repairs to the school include converting the existing gymnasium into a classroom and building a new two-court gymnasium; the construction of a 350-seat auditorium; and the renovation and expansion of the bus garage. Construction also includes $ 3.3 million for a new synthetic turf athletic field and a new track.
The $ 27 million figure does not include money spent on pool repairs.
Ojibway said he does not support moving sports facilities from Carlton to Wrenshall or adding another referendum question to improve the pool. The councils made the changes at a meeting on April 28, despite concerns from the Ojibway and other council members that the actions deviated from the plan spelled out in a community poll.
“I agree with the budget, I agree with what we are asking for,” Ojibway said. “I just don’t agree with the changes to the athletic field at Wrenshall and the pool issue. These are things that we have already agreed on, and it is just disappointing.
Carlton vice president Ann Gustafson said the facilities committee decided as a group that it was best to locate the field in Wrenshall during a meeting on May 6.
“We were able to discuss some of the issues, particularly from (Carlton’s) board members last week regarding the improvements to South Terrace,” said Gustafson. “We went with the same setup as the athletic field was still in Wrenshall… We also ended this meeting knowing that if there was a lot of community backlash within Carlton this plan could be changed. . ”
The approximately $ 10 million construction at South Terrace in Carlton would include the addition of additional classrooms and early childhood programming spaces; update classrooms to facilitate student collaboration and small group instruction; convert the existing gymnasium into additional classroom space and build a new gymnasium and changing rooms for physical education; and update the cafeteria to create a common space for the school and the community.
Hagenah challenged the inclusion of a question on the pool in the referendum. He highlighted the lukewarm community support for the idea in a community survey conducted by the districts over the winter. About 37% of Carlton residents surveyed said they would support funding for the pool, while 53% supported up to $ 38 million in projects except the pool. The survey found that 43% of Wrenshall residents supported the repair of the pool.
“All of that I agree with Sam 100%,” Hagenah said. “Wrenshall has said time and time again over the years about certain things – not just the athletic fields, but other things – and I’m looking at that now and it’s just a very sad picture here. Right now, I’ll tell you, there are a lot of people outside of my bubble who are upset.
Lehto and Karp expressed concern over the pool’s inclusion in the referendum. They backed the plan since voters can approve most of the construction while rejecting the second $ 1.7 million question.
Necessary legislation still in limbo
The next step in the process is for the Minnesota legislature to amend a 2014 law making school groups eligible for better debt service equalization. Better debt service equalization would require the consolidated district to take out the full amount of the bond, but the state would pay up to 46% of the annual bond payment. Currently, schools can only use the mechanism in the event of a natural disaster. Moose Lake authorities took advantage of the legislation after the old building was damaged in the 2012 floods.
Districts are hoping the legislation – presented to the Senate by Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Brook Park and House Representative Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko – will be approved before the end of the session on Monday, May 18.
Reid LeBeau, a lobbyist hired by the districts to guide the legislation, hopes to move the bill from the Senate Finance and Education Policy Committee to the Taxation Committee, where it received support from the Chairman of the Taxation Committee, Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, according to Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman.
District representatives have previously indicated that they do not want to move forward with debt consolidation without better debt equalization.
Carman and Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro are scheduled to meet with LeBeau about the legislation on Wednesday, May 13.
The districts will hold a joint meeting to discuss the status of the bill and the referendum at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20. Wrenshall’s board of directors will vote to call for the referendum at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 18, and Carlton will hold a special meeting for the same purpose at 7 p.m. on May 26.