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South Washington schools consider takeover of Crosswinds building

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE
  • Star Tribune
  • November 30, 2012 - 5:22 PM

For a decade now, Crosswinds Arts and Science School has operated in Woodbury as part of a multi-district collaborative pulling together students of diverse backgrounds from St. Paul and other east metro communities.

But the building in the northwest corner of the city is operating at about half-capacity, and the East Metro Integration District (EMID), which runs the year-round program, now hopes to turn it over to one of its 10 member districts.

Last week, the South Washington County School District expressed a willingness to acquire the building. But it's made no guarantees that the current academic program for sixth through 10th graders would continue beyond the 2013-14 school year. First, the district would study how the building fits its space and programming needs.

"We want to keep all options open," said Jim Gelbmann, who is in the unique position of being a member of both the South Washington County and EMID school boards.

EMID founded Crosswinds in Woodbury and Harambee Elementary School in Maplewood as part of a voluntary school desegregation project involving St. Paul and surrounding districts. The year-round schools offer International Baccalaureate, environmental science and art magnet programs.

The Roseville School District, like South Washington County, has proposed a takeover of Harambee, which is within its boundaries. But unlike South Washington County, Roseville has said it intends to keep the current program running on into "infinity," Gelbmann said.

In a Nov. 19 letter to parents, EMID Superintendent Janet Mohr quoted Roseville Superintendent John Thein as saying: "We want to make this as comfortable and welcoming to the families that are there as possible." Roseville would benefit from collaborating with Harambee, he said, because "it's a wonderful, wonderful program."

South Washington County's proposed takeover of Crosswinds is no sure thing. Questions remain about whether the state would continue to cover transportation costs for students traveling to Woodbury, and whether it might require South Washington County to reimburse it for part of the initial building costs if the district were to change programming at the school.

Gelbmann said the EMID board is not likely to decide until later this month or in January whether to accept South Washington County's proposal. It wants to hear from Crosswinds parents, many of whom were forced to mobilize last year to rescue the school from a possible closure.

This year, EMID is using much of its fund balance to help cover the costs of running the two schools. Gelbmann said that the current funding model is unsustainable.

Crosswinds has 349 students -- down from 396 in 2011-12 -- and is almost evenly divided between white and minority students, state data show.

The EMID board decided in October to have administrators discuss education options with member districts.

In a Nov. 19 letter, South Washington County Superintendent Keith Jacobus proposed that EMID continue to operate Crosswinds during the 2013-14 school year while South Washington County studies the building's best long-term use. He added that South Washington County intends to keep the same program running for an additional transition year in 2014-15, but only if long-term plans make it possible.

"We cannot commit to providing the same programming for the 2014-15 school year at this time," he wrote.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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