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Perpich's Crosswinds acquisition plan clears first legislative hurdle

District 833's attempt to acquire the Crosswinds Arts and Science School building in Woodbury got a bit more difficult after a House committee approved an alternative plan for the facility.

The House Education Finance Committee on Tuesday advanced a proposal to put the Crosswinds school under the governing umbrella of the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

The committee overwhelmingly approved the measure on a voice vote, sending it to a House government operations committee. A companion bill awaits Senate action.

Perpich officials and parents of Crosswinds students said their plan to take over the Crosswinds grades 6-10 program is prudent because it preserves a state asset and would continue to operate much as it has been.

The Perpich Center, which is based in Golden Valley but draws students from around the state, is both a state agency and a school district.

Sue Mackert, Perpich's executive director, said Crosswinds and the three metro-area integration school districts were built with state resources.

"Keeping the school with its rightful owner - the state of Minnesota - is good policy," she told the committee.

Adding Crosswinds is consistent with Perpich's mission and strategic direction "to capitalize on the power of teaching in and through the arts," Mackert said.

Mackert said the Perpich proposal would not cost additional state money.

District 833 and some east-metro lawmakers oppose Perpich's plan in part because it could mean some students currently attending other school districts would move to Crosswinds. The Perpich bill calls for state aid linked to those students to follow them to Crosswinds, rather than stay with their resident districts.

The East Metro Integration District, which oversees Crosswinds and the Harambee elementary-age program in Maplewood, no longer can financially sustain the two buildings.

The EMID board voted to give Crosswinds to Perpich if it can get state approval by April 1.

District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus said South Washington County Schools has supported Crosswinds as an EMID member district.

However, Jacobus said District 833 stands to lose money if Crosswinds is turned over to Perpich.

Jacobus said current estimates put 833's financial loss to Crosswinds at $400,000. But that could grow if Crosswinds picks up more students from surrounding districts, including District 833.

"In these times of limited resources, I believe the long-term consequences of the Crosswinds element of the bill is ... detrimental to our school district and other districts as well," he said.

Should the Perpich plan fall through and District 833 acquire Crosswinds, its tentative plan involves moving Woodbury Elementary Schools students to the nearby Crosswinds building.

The Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion program currently sharing space at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove would move to the Woodbury Elementary building.

Jacobus said District 833 has been put in a difficult situation as it opposes the Perpich plan.

"It appears that we're talking against students, and that's not the case," he said. "We're all in this together for students."

Jacobus said District 833 has not had many students attend Crosswinds, even though it is within the school district boundaries.

At peak there were 60-some students from District 833 choosing to enroll at Crosswinds. This year there are about 38 local students enrolled there.

Crosswinds' total enrollment is about 350 students, but it was built to hold as many as 600 students.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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