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Crosswinds program would change under South Washington County Schools

District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus addresses the East Metro Integration District School Board at Harambee Elementary School in Maplewood on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Two more players in the bidding to take over Crosswinds School in Woodbury are in the same boat as South Washington County Schools:

None of them has a precise plan for future of the school, according to East Metro Integration District board members.

EMID board members, representing 10 member school districts, said in November the district can't afford to continue operating Crosswinds, a school for grades 6-10, and Harambee, an elementary school in Maplewood for grades K-6.

The schools were built in 2003 with a specific focus on programs that integrate students from racially diverse St. Paul Public Schools with surrounding suburban districts that had less racial diversity.

Until last year, EMID member districts, including School District 833, contributed money specifically designated to support integration programs in the two schools.

District 833, which receives about $2.2 million from state and local tax levies for integration programs, contributed $600,000 a year to operate the schools. The two schools also get state money on a per pupil basis as do other districts in the state.

Since the schools were built, their situation has changed as well as the focus of integration. With the Legislature telling districts to change their mission to programs that will close the achievement gap between white students and students of color, districts decided to keep their integration money for programs within their districts.

When the EMID board announced it could no longer afford to operate the schools, it asked for other education entities, mainly District 833 where the school is located, for plans to take over the school.

The entity would get the school free of charge as long as it's operated for educational purposes.

Since November, when Jacobus said that the district wants to take over the school but doesn't have enough time to come up with a specific management proposal, the Perpich Center for Arts Education and School District 916 said they want to take over the school.

With the EMID board slated to approve a takeover at the Dec. 19 meeting, each entity presented a plan, but there were not enough specifics for the EMID board members to feel comfortable selecting one.

EMID board member Jim Gelbmann, also a District 833 board member, moved to keep Crosswinds open, with its current programing, for one more year to give 833, 916 and the Perpich center time to develop specific plans.

Gelbmann later withdrew his motion when other board members said they prefer to wait until the Jan. 23 board meeting to make a final decision.

The EMID board will still host public hearings on Jan. 9 and 10 to close the schools because closing them, even if the date is extended one year for Crosswinds, is inevitable, said Janet Mohr, EMID superintendent.

"We're in the same boat as you are," Jacobus told the EMID board. "We can't run a building as a deficit."

Harambee is expected to be absorbed by Roseville Area Schools, which intends to continue the current programing.

Crosswinds is a year-round school with a 600-student capacity but it's only half full.

Jacobus last month asked EMID to operate Crosswinds for another year to leave time for planning, but he told the board at last week's meeting that, if need be, 833 could take over the school this coming summer. However, the school would not have its current focus, he said. Elements of the program, such as the International Baccalaureate program, would continue but not at Crosswinds.

The district is still growing, Jacobus said. While taking over the school wouldn't help the current student population, it would considerably help more than 17,000 students in School District 833 because of the need for more space.

Crosswinds has a "wonderful program" that changes kid's lives, he said, adding that also happens in District 833.

Other proposals

Connie Hayes, District 916 superintendent, said her district would not operate current programs if given an opportunity to take over Crosswinds either.

It needs only part of the current space to serve its students, many of whom are physically and mentally disabled. The nature of the student population would also mean substantially changing the building to close open classrooms and atriums, she said. Her district would need time to get architects' estimates and partner with another district to take the remaining space.

However, Crosswinds is located in the southwest area of 916 where it intends to open a K-8 school, Hayes said.

"If you're going to extend the time, we could look at it further," she said.

Speaking on behalf of the Perpich center, Pam Paulson, senior policy director, told board members that the center is considered a state agency under legislative control.

The center is a state-wide residential school for grades 11 and 12 with an arts and science focus in the same vein as Crosswinds. Some Crosswinds students enter the center. Under current legislative rules, entrance wouldn't be automatic, she said, even if the center owns the school.

Unlike Crosswinds, which has a highly diverse population due to the integration focus, only 15 percent of the center's students are students of color.

Parents of current Crosswinds students, who were in the audience, said they prefer a takeover by the center because current programing would be kept.

Gelbmann asked how the center would recruit more students.

It would take time to increase enrollment, Paulson said. While Crosswinds is a good match for the center, over time, there's no guarantee all current programing would continue, she said.

Subject to legislative approval, the center wouldn't know until the end of the session in May if it can get an additional $2 million to take over Crosswinds.

"I feel that this is deja vu all over again," Gelbmann said, when a year ago, the board refused to close the schools.

"We put things off hoping for a miracle," added EMID board member Karen Morehead of Forest Lake.

Gelbmann and Morehead said putting off a decision until Jan. 23 causes more anxiety for parents while other board members said extending the time for a decision allows them to hear from parents.

It would cost about $1 million to operate Crosswinds another year, said Shari Thompson, EMID business manager. The EMID district has a $4 million fund balance.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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