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New wrinkles, legislation unfold in Crosswinds saga

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South Washington County Schools is expanding its list of possible uses for Crosswinds school building even as its chances of acquiring it might be slimming.

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A committee exploring how the district could use the Crosswinds Arts and Science School building if acquired from the East Metro Integration District has suggested four possible uses. That broadens District 833's considerations from just one tentative plan already under review.

The district's continued study comes as state lawmakers proposed new conditions for a Crosswinds acquisition that could scuttle District 833's interest in the building altogether.

The district had proposed shifting Woodbury Elementary School students to the nearby Crosswinds building and moving the Nuevas Fronteras Spanish immersion program to the Woodbury Elementary space, among other changes.

The committee assigned to the issue has suggested three additional options:

n Move Nuevas Fronteras from its space in Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove to the Crosswinds building in Woodbury. There would be no shuffling of Woodbury Elementary School students in this option. The estimated operating cost could be $795,000 annually, with $422,000 needed for capital improvements.

n Establish a choice middle school at Crosswinds. That could be a magnet school that focuses on a specific discipline. This option is estimated to cost $1.355 million annually with $137,000 in start-up capital costs.

n Make Crosswinds the district's fifth traditional middle school, which would require moving some attendance boundaries. This would run the district an estimated $1.18 million annually and $137,000 in initial capital expenses.

The initial option - moving Woodbury Elementary to Crosswinds and Nuevas Fronteras to the Woodbury Elementary building - was estimated to cost $893,000 a year with $422,000 in up-front capital costs.

The additional three options were introduced to the District 833 School Board during a Thursday, April 11, workshop.

Superintendent Keith Jacobus said moving Woodbury Elementary students to Crosswinds or shifting Nuevas Fronteras to Crosswinds have the most support among the four District 833 possible uses, but the committee still is exploring the issue before giving administrators a recommendation.

Jacobus said the district needs to plan for a possible acquisition of Crosswinds even though it does not know whether it will get the building, which is located northwest of Interstate 494 and Tamarack Road.

District 833 had hoped to acquire the building at essentially no cost, if lawmakers turned down a plan by the Perpich Center for Arts Education to take over the school and continue the Crosswinds curriculum. That proposal is pending in the Legislature.

The Crosswinds school was built 10 years ago and financed with state-issued bonds, so the Legislature and a state agency overseeing public construction financing has authority over how the building is used.

A House bill that lays out new public construction projects was amended last week to include a provision stating that if District 833 plans to acquire the building, it must continue to be used as a magnet school. The other way the building could be acquired would be through a purchase equal to the state construction cost.

Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, said she crafted the amendment with Rep. Ryan Winkler, a Golden Valley Democrat who introduced the original bill for Perpich to acquire the building. Ward called the amendment "a fair approach" and noted that it's not appropriate for the state to give its property away.

The amendment is modeled after the tack Roseville School District took in acquiring Harambee School, which was also operated by EMID. In that case, Roseville maintained the existing programming.

"We're really just wanting to do the same thing with Crosswinds," Ward said.

New hurdle

The latest legislative move appears to create a new hurdle for District 833. Jacobus has said continuing the Crosswinds program would not be financially viable for District 833, just as it has not been while operated by the East Metro Integration District. Likewise, the district has not budgeted for the purchase of a school building, which was constructed with $23.9 million in state bonds.

"The amendment, if that stands, we'd have to decide if the district could do that," Jacobus said.

Ward said the Crosswinds building is not an appropriate space for an elementary school and is best suited for a middle school. As to whether the amendment hurts District 833's chances at acquiring the building, Ward said "they've got as much of a chance as anyone else."

Meanwhile, two south Washington County DFL lawmakers have introduced bills that would give turn over Crosswinds to District 833. Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove and Rep. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park authored the bills.

The bills have not been considered by legislative committees.

"This is an action that if the Perpich (plan) can't hold up, there has to be an alternate in order to move forward," Schoen said. "I will continue to fight for my local school district and the taxpayers of District 833."

To keep residents informed of what District 833 knows of the Crosswinds process, Jacobus plans to post short video updates on the district's website.

Woodbury Bulletin Editor Mike Longaecker contributed to this report

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Scott Wente
Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
(651) 459-7600
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