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Carlton school district referendum fails

Signs in support (left) and opposing (right) next Tuesday's Carlton school district referendum have been a frequent sight in and around the Carlton County community. (Pine Journal)

Voters in the Carlton school district on Tuesday rejected a referendum to renovate and expand its elementary school to become a preK-12 campus.

Tuesday's referendum asked voters two questions:

The first asked for approval to borrow nearly $23.6 million to renovate South Terrace Elementary School and construct a new high school addition at the South Terrace site, to create a two-section school with a shared cafeteria, media center and office spaces.

The second question (contingent on the first one passing) was whether to approve an additional $3.3 million in borrowing to build an auditorium, improve athletic spaces and make other site improvements.

Voters opposed the first question by with 1,202 votes against the question and 475 votes for it, according to results posted on the district's website. Because the first question failed, the second question automatically failed; the votes on the second question were 427 for and 1,236 against.

"We will continue to work in partnership with our community and families to fulfill our mission to educate, empower and inspire our students," the district reported on its Facebook page.

Supporters of the referendum had said it was necessary to replace outdated or failing facilities, some of which are more than 100 years old, and said improved buildings might keep more students from transferring to other districts. Opponents raised concerns about the tax burden, and questioned the size of the proposed addition.

In the wake of the referendum failing, the district still has authority via state statute to levy up to $12 million without voter approval to devote to solving health and safety issues in its schools, Superintendent Gwen Carman previously told the Pine Journal.

Carlton has gone through two rounds of talks and research regarding consolidation with the nearby Wrenshall school district in recent years. Those talks ended in a stalemate both times, with both districts agreeing that a combined preK-12 school made more sense — but each wanting that facility in their own community.

In April, a year after consolidation talks failed for the second time, Wrenshall school district residents decisively voted "no" on a $12.5 million bond referendum for school renovations and an expansion to that district's existing preK-12 facility.