Magnet schools: Deal still possible for Crosswinds, Harambee programs

/ 7 June 2013 / eunice

Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, June 7, 2013 – The future of two east-metro magnet schools is back in the hands of board members who just a few months ago voted to end their relationship with the schools.

Board members of the East Metro Integration District, or EMID, hoped state lawmakers would decide the futures of Harambee Elementary Community Cultures Environmental Science School and Crosswinds East Metro Arts and Science School. The board decided in January that continuing to run the schools would be too expensive.

“EMID asked lawmakers to clean up their mess, and then the Legislature made a mess of it as well,” said Eric Celeste, a parent of students in EMID schools who has fought to keep the programs open.

EMID board members supported legislation turning governance of Harambee over to Roseville Area Schools and Crosswinds to Perpich Center for Arts Education. Those bills stalled in the state Senate, leaving the schools in limbo.

Now, supporters hope they can convince EMID board members to use management deals to keep the programs open next year. Officials from the Minnesota Management and Budget office told school supporters near the end of the legislative session that lawmakers’ approval was needed to transfer ownership of the EMID facilities because they are state assets.

Under the latest proposal, Roseville and Perpich would operate the Harambee and Crosswinds programs next school year, while EMID would retain ownership of the schools. Lawmakers are expected to revisit the issue in the next legislative session.

Harambee, which is in Maplewood, and Crosswinds, which is in Woodbury, have a focus on voluntary student integration.

Janet Mohr, EMID superintendent, said she hopes to have more information about the proposed management agreements when board members meet June 19. It’s unclear what state agencies would have to approve in these unique management deals, and EMID, Roseville and Perpich have asked the state budget office and Education Department to weigh in.

Lawmakers who supported Perpich’s proposal for Crosswinds encouraged EMID members to move forward with management deals when the board met May 29. A deal with Roseville appears to have the support of both school boards, but the future of Crosswinds could again divide the board.

While Roseville and Perpich want to continue the schools’ magnet programs, South Washington County Schools has sought the $26 million Crosswinds building to help accommodate the district’s expected enrollment growth.

Jim Gelbmann, who represents South Washington County Schools on the EMID board, cast the deciding vote in January to give Perpich a chance to run Crosswinds, but he required a timeline that supporters decided was impossible to meet. Perpich’s failure to win lawmakers’ approval in time put South Washington County next in line for the building.

However, lawmakers’ inaction also put South Washington County’s plans for Crosswinds on hold.

Gelbmann told fellow South Washington County school board members at their June 5 meeting that he was frustrated with other EMID board members’ willingness to explore a management agreement with Perpich. State lawmakers shot down that idea by failing to approve it during the legislative session, he said.

The continued uncertainty has taken its toll on the schools, especially Crosswinds, where most teachers and students have made other plans for next school year.

Both schools will close at the end of July without a decision by the EMID board. Management deals would solve the problem only in the short term.

“It’s not a permanent solution,” Mohr said.