Crosswinds school supporters must win over lawmakers quickly

/ 20 February 2013 / eunice

Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, February 20, 2013 – If supporters of Crosswinds Arts & Science School in Woodbury are going to save their voluntary integration program, they will have to win over Minnesota lawmakers and fend off some homegrown opposition.

Bills introduced in the state Senate and the House in the past week would allow the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley to take over the school now operated by the East Metro Integration District. EMID is a collaborative of 10 east metro districts working to reduce racial segregation and close the gap in achievement between white and affluent students and their poor and minority counterparts.

The timetable for a decision is tight.

If Perpich can’t win approval in the coming month to run Crosswinds, then the magnet program will close and the building will be turned over to South Washington County Schools, an EMID member with a growing enrollment and a need for new facilities.

South Washington County Superintendent Keith Jacobus made it clear in a Feb. 1 letter to Gov. Mark Dayton that district leaders plan to lobby against Perpich’s plans to take over the school. Jacobus’ letter to Dayton said it would be more fiscally responsible to turn the $25 million Crosswinds building over to his district.

“That is the nightmare scenario,” said Mary Cecconi of Parents United for Public Schools, an education advocacy group. “That property was paid for by the state with the specific purpose that whatever was learned there would help the whole state.”

Cecconi was a Stillwater school board member when the state began to develop its integration districts, and she is now working closely with parents to persuade lawmakers to transfer the school to Perpich. She believes the state intended Crosswinds to be a laboratory where students and educators can study integration and diversity.

Perpich is a state agency that provides arts-focused professional development and other training to educators around the state and runs an Arts High School for 11th- and 12th-graders — two efforts that leaders say make them uniquely qualified to run an arts and science magnet school with a mission of integration.

Eric Celeste, a parent of a Crosswinds students, said he hopes lawmakers will make their decision based on the merits of the school’s program, and not on whether South Washington County needs a facility.

“I think it is unfortunate that the best way for South Washington to get a building for their district is to shoot down a successful program,” he said.

State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is the chief author of the bill that would give Perpich control of Crosswinds. Winkler said he believes it will come up for a vote before the April 1 deadline.

But other lawmakers aren’t so sure about a quick decision. State Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who sits on both House education committees, said it was unfortunate EMID board members gave Perpich such a tight timeline.

“We are carving new ground here,” Mariani said. “One of the questions it raises for us is: Does the state see value in these types of schools? I would rather move more deliberately than quickly on the issue.”

Lawmakers’ questions about metro-wide integration efforts created much of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Crosswinds and EMID’s other program, Harambee Community Cultures Environmental Science School in Roseville.

In 2010, lawmakers voted to update the way integration efforts were funded, possibly putting the schools finances at risk.

Jim Gelbmann, South Washington County’s representative on the EMID board, said he was worried the pending legislation didn’t provide a more consistent funding source for Crosswinds. He fears Perpich will have to increase class sizes or modify the program to make the school fiscally viable.

Perpich leaders initially estimated they would need additional funding to run the school, but this week they said the per-pupil funding formula in the bill would be enough. It includes money for services like special education, gifted-and-talented programs and aid for at-risk students.

Gelbmann was the deciding vote in January to give Perpich a shot at operating Crosswinds. He stipulated that they must get approval by April 1.

Gelbmann says the deadline ensures his district can use the building next school year should Perpich fail to win over lawmakers.

“I have to wear two hats here,” he said.