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Cloquet, Carlton school districts to discuss consolidation

It was late August when Carlton school district officials sent a letter to Cloquet, wondering if the larger school district would be interested in discussing possible consolidation.

Last week, Cloquet School Board members agreed with Cloquet Superintendent Ken Scarbrough that it is an idea worth exploring. Carefully.

"I indicated (to Carlton) we'd be interested in looking at what's best for the kids, what's best for our school districts, but we want to do it in a very deliberate and open manner," Scarbrough said, before asking for board members to volunteer to serve on a subcommittee. "The understanding has to be that this is an open process. We're not going to do anything behind closed doors."

School Board members Dave Battaglia — who worked for the Carlton school district for 30 years — Ted Lammi and Nate Sandman volunteered to meet with Carlton School Board members for the initial discussions.

Scarbrough said that legally there are many factors to consider, including finance, debt, student populations and personnel contracts. In addition, there's the simple question of facilities. Cloquet just built a new middle school and moved the fifth-graders up to the middle school to make more room in the crowded elementary schools.

Community member James Mallery asked the board, "Is there room for another 40-45 students in each grade at the middle school and high school," under the assumption that Carlton's South Terrace Elementary School would remain open if the two districts consolidated.

Scarbrough said determining facility needs would be part of the process, and would include the help of professional consultants.

The Carlton and Wrenshall school districts also have discussed consolidation in the past, and two rounds of talks between the school boards failed over the past two years. Many residents of the small school districts still are pushing for consolidation, and some Carlton residents had suggested looking at Cloquet.

Both Wrenshall and Carlton lost building bond referendums this year by wide margins, when the school districts asked voters to approve money to improve or build new facilities for the respective districts.