South Washington County prepares for Crosswinds school — if it gets it

Both the Perpich Center and South Washington County schools have plans to run Crosswinds.

The question of who will control the Crosswinds Arts and Science School building in Woodbury is now up to state legislators, and they will have a full session in which to act.

Gone is an April 1 deadline that threatened a Perpich Center for Arts Education proposal to take over the school and keep its current integration program alive.

In appearances before House committees, the Perpich Center has staked its case for the takeover on broad-based education policies.

In contrast, the South Washington County School District, which also covets the building, is thinking locally.

A committee of administrators, parents and staff members is exploring an idea to move Woodbury Elementary School students to Crosswinds and to use the elementary site as the new home of a K-5 Spanish immersion program now in Cottage Grove.

As part of the plan, the district also would construct an addition between the elementary school and Woodbury Middle School, and eventually move the district’s middle-school Spanish immersion program — now at Cottage Grove Middle School — into the new two-school campus.

But the district is considering three other proposals, too, said spokeswoman Barbara Brown, and “where we land will be up to this committee.” Other ideas, according to a district update released last week, include moving the K-5 Spanish immersion program, Nuevas Fronteras, into the Crosswinds space, instead of Woodbury Elementary, or developing a new middle school or middle-school “choice program” at the Crosswinds site.

Last month, Superintendent Keith Jacobus told a House panel that turning over the school to South Washington County — now a member of the multidistrict collaborative that currently runs Crosswinds and Harambee Elementary in Maplewood — was in the best interest of local taxpayers.

But unlike Perpich Center, which has presented its case to several House committees, South Washington had yet, as of last Wednesday, to have a bill introduced on its behalf. Then again, until March 20, there had been no urgency.

The East Metro Integration District (EMID) learned then that an April 1 deadline it had set for Perpich Center to win state legislative approval for its proposal, or see the building turned over to South Washington County, was “no longer operative,” said Jay Squires, an EMID attorney. Minnesota Management & Budget, the state agency that granted the funds to build Crosswinds, would not sign off on a takeover until legislators act, he said, rendering any local deadline moot.

The state Department of Education, for its part, has taken “no official position at this point” on who should get the school, Keith Hovis, a department spokesman, said last week.

With no deadline, South Washington County said it no longer was certain it can have a program in place at Crosswinds at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Perpich Center, in the meantime, is pressing on, and during the course of House hearings, has fine-tuned its proposal since first winning EMID board approval in January. Last month, Executive Director Sue Mackert told the House Education Finance Committee that the center, a state agency, had determined it would not need additional funding to operate the school.

She and others spoke, too, of how Crosswinds succeeded in turning around the performance of students who struggled elsewhere — students whose “proven achievements are dependent upon a curriculum built around the arts and sciences,” she said.

Unlike many schools, Mackert added, Crosswinds has seen progress in closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.

“Let’s replicate, not eradicate this solution,” she said. “Crosswinds works.”

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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