Talks aim to keep Crosswinds school from being mothballed

Perpich Center for the Arts is open to managing the Woodbury school.

Weeks after legislators closed out the 2013 session without deciding the fate of Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury, work continues behind the scenes to keep the multi-district integration program alive in 2013-14.

The East Metro Integration District (EMID) recently asked the two entities that vied this year to take over the building if they’d be willing to manage the school’s current operations during the upcoming school year.

The Perpich Center for Arts Education said it would work with EMID to keep the school going while the South Washington County School District declined — not a surprising development given the recent history of what has been an intermittent two-year debate over the future of the arts magnet school.

Debra Kelley, a spokeswoman for Perpich Center, reaffirmed the center’s position that Crosswinds is a valuable state asset that should be preserved. Like the Perpich Center, she said, “Crosswinds excels in helping all students achieve — regardless of their ethnicity, social economic status or disability — by teaching in and through the arts.”

South Washington County Superintendent Keith Jacobus maintains that the current program does not meet the district’s needs, and without the option to repurpose the building, “there is no interest in assuming management or governance of the current program,” district spokeswoman Barbara Brown said last week.

Crosswinds is one of two schools operated by EMID, a multi-district collaborative that promotes the integration of students in St. Paul and its suburbs. Crosswinds houses sixth to 10th grades, and the other facility, Harambee Community School in Maplewood, serves kindergartners to fifth-graders.

Last month, they were put at risk of being shuttered after the Legislature failed to pass an EMID proposal to turn over Crosswinds to the Perpich Center and Harambee to the Roseville School District.

Several House members blamed the Senate, which had a competing bill to transfer Crosswinds to South Washington County but held no hearings on either proposal.

The legislators spoke at a May 29 EMID board meeting during which board members gave preliminary backing to a Roseville plan to manage Harambee in 2013-14, a proposal that’s been judged by the state Department of Education to be allowable under state statute.

Crosswinds, as it currently operates, received an impassioned defense during the May 29 meeting from state Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview. He spoke of his own history as a high school dropout who later thrived when he attended an alternative school.

He also had a blunt message for advocates of a South Washington County takeover of the Crosswinds site, saying the idea that there was a building for sale or that it was “going to be given to another school district just isn’t going to happen ... We have the backing of the [House] speaker on that.”

Kelley said Perpich Center envisions Crosswinds as a “lab school” for lessons and models that could be used by teachers across the state to help close the achievement gap between white and minority students.

It was unclear early last week just how far the talks between EMID and Perpich Center had progressed.

But state Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, who represents the Crosswinds area, said on Tuesday that people still were working and she was hopeful Crosswinds would remain open and “proceed better than ever.”

The EMID board’s next meeting is set for Wednesday.

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