Some legislators want to scrap the Perpich Center for Arts Education, leaving the struggling high school and middle school operated by the center in limbo.

Republicans in the House proposed closing both schools after a scathing legislative audit in January found they were wrestling with declining enrollment, a lack of oversight and low test scores.

The audit cited mismanagement and high staff turnover at Crosswinds Arts and Science, a middle school in Woodbury.

"Our fate is in the hands of the Legislature and the governor," said Ben Vander Kooi, who took over as Perpich Center board chair in January. "The next month will tell the tale of where we are at and whether we will survive."

The Senate, meanwhile, has proposed keeping open the Perpich Arts High School in Golden Valley and giving the center's governing board time to turn the state agency around while reporting annually to the Legislature.

Gov. Mark Dayton also wants to see the center and its schools remain open while the board addresses the audit's findings.

The House and Senate bills will have to make it through a conference committee.

Perpich Center, which has an annual budget of about $11 million, was established by the Legislature in 1985 as a statewide resource center for arts education. The state agency began running the Golden Valley arts high school for 11th and 12th grade students in 1989.

In 2013, it took over the Crosswinds school for 6th- through 10th-grade students from the East Metro Integration District.

"Perpich was never in a position to take over Crosswinds," said Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, chair of the House Education Innovation Policy Committee.

Under the House bill proposed by Erickson and House Education Finance Chairwoman Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, Perpich would lose control of both schools following the 2017-2018 school year and its 15-member board would be reduced to an arts specialist position in the Minnesota Department of Education.

St. Paul Public Schools and South Washington Schools have each indicated interest in absorbing the middle school.

Without the schools, 113 teachers and staff would be out of jobs.

Second chance

Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, is among legislators hoping to keep the Perpich school open, under the guidance of the Perpich Center board, which includes nine new members since last summer.

"We want to give this new board an opportunity to turn it around," she said, adding that in just a couple of months, the new board already has begun addressing some of the findings in the audit.

Ward sponsored legislation that failed to advance in the House that would have kept the school open through 2019 while a report is put together that would "examine agency policies and practices to address the problems identified in the 2017" audit.

The Senate's budget bill would keep the Perpich high school open but would require annual progress reports beginning in 2017.

The audit was disturbing, said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, but he added that the Senate has not yet heard the House's argument.

"I thought we should give the new board a little bit of time," said Pratt, chair of the Senate E-12 Policy Committee. "I didn't think we were ready to take it [Perpich] up this year given when we got the report."

While the House bill has left the agency's future up in the air, school officials have not stopped preparing for what comes next.

The center's board is narrowing its list of candidates for its new executive director position and plans to have a decision by the end of May. Executive director Sue Mackert retired in January. In her seven years, the Perpich board reviewed her performance only twice.

Along with new leadership, the board is fighting to boost the school's enrollment. The arts high school had a first-day enrollment of 306 in 2011; that number had dropped to 187 students by 2016. The school has an enrollment cap of 310.

In an effort to attract more students, high school officials added a second deadline for applicants to apply in April following the first February deadline.

"We are reaching out and building relationships with new communities throughout the state to try and get a more diverse representation of students," said Ahava Silkey-Jones, principal of the high school.

Legislators say Perpich is deficient in serving students in greater Minnesota.

The state-run high school was mandated to serve students throughout the state, but 78 percent of students are from the metro area, according to the audit.

"Right now, we have a higher percentage of metro students than the school traditionally has had, so we are reinvigorating our process around bringing students in from greater Minnesota," Silkey-Jones said.

While the audit lambasted the school for lack of outreach, school officials point to re-energized measures as a signal of the many changes to come. The high school has relaunched its summer arts program and will kick start an arts tour with students in the fall to reach out to families across Minnesota.

"The new board that has been appointed ... are working really hard to bring this ship around," said Sheila M. Smith, Minnesota Citizen for the Arts executive director.

The community is also coming out to support Perpich with a sense of urgency, Silkey-Jones said. In January, parents like Reba Dominski formed a parent action committee and will host a fundraiser in May.

Dominski's daughter arrived at Perpich as a junior after leaving the Breck School in Golden Valley. At the high school, art covers the lockers and an art retrospective shows off student projects.

When she told her daughter the Legislature's plans would take effect after her graduation, her daughter grew upset.

"She said, 'Mom this isn't about me, this is about all the kids out there who benefit from the experience like the one that I am having at Perpich,'‚ÄČ" Dominski said.