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South Washington County Schools in line for Crosswinds if Perpich can't secure state money

South Washington County Schools will take over Crosswinds school in Woodbury unless state lawmakers provide extra funding by April 1 to assist the Perpich Center for the Arts in acquiring the school.

The East Metro Integration District School Board met last Wednesday, Jan. 23, to make final decisions about the future of its two schools -- Crosswinds, which houses grades 6-10, and Harambee, for kindergarten through fifth grade. EMID cannot afford to continue operating them.

About 15 parents of current students in the two schools and teachers urged the board to give Crosswinds to the Perpich center, which has proposed to continue Crosswinds' current program focused on arts and science in an atmosphere of racial integration.

School District 833 officials also made a proposal to accept the school, but stated again that the district would not continue current programming at the year-round school. Operating a school for 300 students in a building with a capacity for 600 students would not be feasible, South Washington County Schools officials said.

District 833 also stood firm when asked how it would use the school. School leaders said plans to use the Crosswinds building would first have to be brought to the community before committing to the future.

A third player is Intermediate School District 916, which was not part of Wednesday's discussion because it needs an additional year to study a plan for extensive remodeling to make the school for a disabled student population safe. Additionally, District 916 would only use part of the school.

Those who testified urged the board to take a leap of faith that the Perpich center, which would need increased annual funding to operate at Crosswinds, could get a $2.5 million to $3 million appropriation through the Legislature. They unsuccessfully asked the board to extend their deadline to May, when the legislative session must end.

They said the board should look beyond test scores and declining enrollment to see that Crosswinds changed lives for students who didn't thrive in traditional schools.

The EMID board passed resolutions to close both schools, which means all teachers are laid off and put on "unrequested leave" and allowed to bid for jobs in any of eight member school districts. The EMID board also voted to give the Harambee school to the Roseville school district.

Deciding the future of Crosswinds, valued at $25 million including its property near Tamarack Road and Interstate 494, took a series of votes and amendments. Jim Gelbmann, an EMID board member and District 833 board member, moved to run Crosswinds for another year so the three groups could have more time to plan, but the motion failed.

Gelbmann, who said a Perpich lobbyist told him that the center could meet the April 1 deadline, said he has "very serious concerns" about the possibility of getting a bill passed, especially one that would need funding every year.

Karen Morehead, board member from Forest Lake, said there are too many uncertainties in the Perpich proposal, including that it doesn't address student transportation.

Crosswinds test scores have continued to fall, said EMID board member Cindy Nordstrom of Inver Grove Heights. Many staff members have already left the school, which should have been closed two years ago.

Without the power to levy taxes, the Perpich center is in the same position as EMID, said Marilyn Foresberg of Spring Lake Park. "There are so many ifs," she said.

The final vote, to give the school to the Perpich center if it can secure funding from the Legislature, failed on a 5-5 tie.

After a short break, a second vote to amend the motion with a deadline of April 1, passed 6-4.

If District 833 acquires the school, it will be at no cost if the building is used for education. It was built with state funds.

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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