Crosswinds school's future unclear
School District 833 officials say they would prefer that Crosswinds school in Woodbury, and Harambe school in Maplewood, be closed because they are expensive and not adequately increasing racial integration in the 10 school districts that support them.
Closing the two schools would free up more money to member districts, including District 833, for more in-house programs for minority students.
The closure of the schools would displace 830 students.
"It would be very traumatic having to displace 800 students," EMID interim superintendent Jerry Robicheau said.
The two schools are part of the East Metro Integration District (EMID) and supported by area school districts, including South Washington County Schools and the St. Paul district. Each district has a representative on the EMID School Board. Jim Gelbmann, 833 board member, has been on the EMID board for the past three years.
The schools' future was discussed by superintendents from the member districts and EMID board members Oct. 12. Superintendents offered two choices: Either close the schools so more integration funding can go back to individual districts or keep the schools open with EMID reserve funds and less money from the 10 participating districts.
A consensus of the board appeared to favor keeping the school open. A decision is expected at an Oct. 19 board meeting.
"(Option 2) is an opportunity for EMID to start looking at what it should look like in the future," Robicheau said. "Look at EMID as a total entity, and not just the schools."
District 833 Superintendent Mark Porter, who favors closing the two schools, said under the second choice, 833 would retain more of its integration money and "is better than nothing."
However, the EMID board must change the way it currently operates, he said, or districts will consider leaving the collaborative.
District 833 is mandated to be in EMID since approximately one mile of the South Washington County Schools boundary abuts St. Paul that is racially isolated. Spring Lake Park, Forest Lake and White Bear Lake, for example, are not required to stay in the collaborative.
Crosswinds School is located on Weir Drive near the Tamarack Road and I-494 interchange in Woodbury.
EMID was formed, along with other groups of districts, as a result of a State of Minnesota decision about 20 years ago out of concerns the state was allowing the St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts, with their high percentages of minority students, to be racially segregated.
To avoid a lawsuit it might lose, and to avoid possible bussing between urban and suburban districts, which was very controversial at the time, the state offered a settlement to give money to "racially isolated" St. Paul and Minneapolis and adjoining districts to foster more inter-racial contact, according to Gelbmann.
Currently, District 833 gets $2.4 million a year for racial integration programs, with 70 percent of the money coming from the state and 30 percent from a local tax levy, about $750,000, Gelbmann said.
District 833 sends $1 million of that funding to EMID, which spends 60 percent of what it gets from member districts to support the two schools, which are on year-round schedules.
District 833 has 28 students at Harambe Community Cultures/Environment Science School with grades kindergarten through fifth-grade, and 65 students in grades 6-10 at Crosswinds. State aid for those students goes with them to the integrated school rather than staying with their home school district.
EMID spends $7,500 per student versus the $6,200 spent per child in District 833, Porter said. Students at the two integrated schools are getting "a Cadillac education."
"Winding the clock back, they probably shouldn't have built those two schools," Porter said.
With $1 million of the integration money going to EMID schools that serves 93 District 833 students, there are minority students within District 833 that are not benefitting from the money and aren't even aware that it exists, Porter said.
There are 120,000 students in the 10 districts in EMID.
Three years ago, the state Legislature said integration districts also had to spend resources to close "the achievement gap" that has students of color with lower test scores than Caucasian students.
State Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test scores for the two EMID schools are about equal to scores in St. Paul Schools.
"EMID is spending 50 percent more to achieve the same results as St. Paul," Gelbmann said.
Before last week's meeting, most of the member superintendents supported closing the schools and retaining but changing the role of EMID, according to Gelbmann.
While EMID board members seemed to support closing the schools, after hearing of a second option that would keep them open but with funding changes, resolve to close them appeared to wane.
"I don't think there are six votes here to close the schools," Gelbmann said.
Further complicating the future of the two schools is a legislative commission that is being appointed this month to review how state integration money is being spent with a report due in February.
Gelbmann has applied to be a member of the commission.
If EMID eventually decides to close the schools, both buildings are owned by the state of Minnesota, according to Porter.
EMID member districts include Forest Lake, White Bear Lake, Stillwater, South St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights, South Washington County Schools, St. Paul, Roseville, Spring Lake Park and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan.