Crosswinds fight heats up in Legislature
District 833's attempt to acquire the Crosswinds Arts and Science School building suffered a setback after a problematic deadline was lifted on the preferred plan for the school building.
State lawmakers considering whether to turn over the Crosswinds building in Woodbury to the Perpich Center for Arts Education last week removed an April 1 deadline for approval of the bill. District 833 is in line for the building if the Perpich plan falls through.
Perpich officials said the removal of the deadline helps their effort because it gives lawmakers more time to work. The East Metro Integration District board that is looking to unload Crosswinds had set the April 1 deadline.
"We feel really good about where things are," Debra Kelley, Perpich's senior director of communications, said Monday.
The Perpich bill cleared two House hurdles last week. The House author, DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, said there are a few ways the bill could reach floor votes this legislative session.
The bill has not been heard in the Senate. Winkler blamed Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, for Senate inaction on the Perpich bill.
"She has a lot of persuasive power," Winkler said of Sieben, an assistant Senate majority leader whose district includes South Washington County Schools.
Sieben last month told the Bulletin she did not have the ability to prevent the Perpich bill from being heard. However, Sieben questioned aspects of the Perpich plan and said she was trying to raise those questions and concerns with other lawmakers.
Sieben said Monday she was not aware of an April 1 deadline in the bill. "That was an EMID deadline, that Perpich seems to be trying to circumvent now that they aren't getting their way," she said in an email.
Senate bill author Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, did not return a call seeking comment.
The House Education Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 12, overwhelmingly approved the measure putting the Crosswinds program under the governing umbrella of Perpich, which operates a Golden Valley-based arts high school that draws students from around the state.
Then, on Friday, the House Government Operations Committee also advanced the bill, after it was amended to remove the April 1 deadline.
Perpich officials and parents of Crosswinds students said their plan to take over the Crosswinds grades 6-10 program is prudent because it preserves a state asset and would continue to operate much as it has been.
Sue Mackert, Perpich's executive director, said Crosswinds and the three metro-area integration school districts were built with state resources.
"Keeping the school with its rightful owner - the state of Minnesota - is good policy," she told the education committee.
Mackert said the Perpich proposal would not cost additional state money.
District 833 and some east-metro lawmakers oppose Perpich's plan in part because it could mean some students currently attending other school districts would move to Crosswinds -- and state aid would follow them.
District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus said South Washington County Schools has supported Crosswinds as a founding EMID member district.
However, Jacobus said District 833 stands to lose money if Crosswinds is turned over to Perpich.
Jacobus said the bill estimates that 833's financial loss to Crosswinds would be nearly $400,000 if the Perpich plan was approved. That could grow if Crosswinds picks up more students from surrounding districts, including District 833, he said.
Perpich supporters say 833 has benefited financially from Crosswinds because local property tax levy revenue stays with the district, even if a student who lives in the district decides to attend Crosswinds.
If District 833 acquires Crosswinds, it plans to move Woodbury Elementary School students to Crosswinds and then put its Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion program in the Woodbury elementary space, among other proposed changes.
The EMID board meets Wednesday, March 20, and will receive information about how the legislative activity affects the board's intended April 1 deadline, EMID Superintendent Janet Mohr said Tuesday.
Mohr said this is "unchartered territory" for EMID.
"We begin with a process, and then we learn things as we go," she said.