The Perpich Center for Arts Education has lax oversight and morale issues and is struggling to sustain a Woodbury magnet school that it rescued from closure in 2013, a legislative auditor’s report concluded Thursday.
Crosswinds School, an arts and science magnet, had only 129 students in October — well below its low point of 349 students when it was managed by the East Metro Integration District, the audit said.
The enrollment is significant because Crosswinds is funded largely by per-pupil state aid, unlike the agency’s arts high school in Golden Valley, which receives money from the state’s general fund. The high school has seen its enrollment fall, too, from 306 students in 2011 to 187 in 2016.
The program audit was pushed by state Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, amid reports of parental concerns, plus student and staff turnover at Crosswinds.
In December, Sue Mackert, the agency’s executive director, announced she was retiring on Jan. 2.
However, Perpich Center officials said the audit was not a factor in her decision.
According to the auditor’s findings, the Perpich Center’s 15-member board has gone nine years without adopting a strategic plan or annual goals. Despite a policy to review the executive director’s performance annually, the board did so only twice during Mackert’s seven-year tenure.
“While Perpich Center employees express commitment to the agency’s mission, they have had many concerns about the agency’s administrative leadership,” a summary of the auditor’s report states. Widespread concerns suggested “a serious morale problem.”
In addition to enrollment, Crosswinds’ student performance on state standardized tests has slid since the Perpich Center takeover.
“The school implemented changes in staff training and student curriculum for the 2016-17 school year, but it remains to be seen whether these changes will improve school enrollment or student academic performance,” the report states.
The report urges the Legislature to consider changing the scope of the agency’s duties, including whether it should oversee two schools and provide statewide arts education outreach.
In a Jan. 13 letter, Benjamin Vander Kooi, the agency’s acting board chairman, and administrators said that “many of the report recommendations are already being actively addressed while others will take more time and input from stakeholders.”
They say they agree to working with the Legislature, and believe, too, that a discussion about the scope of the agency’s duties is needed.