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Crosswinds given 1-year reprieve

A Woodbury school thought to be all but mothballed in June was revived for another school year, at least.

East Metro Integration District School Board members on Wednesday, July 10, approved a two-part measure that will keep Crosswinds Arts and Science School open for the 2013-14 school year under the management of the Perpich Center.

"It is very satisfying to see Crosswinds as a choice school for students and families," East Metro Integration District Superintendent Janet Mohr said after the meeting.

The Perpich Center -- a state agency that operates an eponymous school in Golden Valley -- will manage Crosswinds, a school in eastern Woodbury whose fate has been in limbo ever since funding shortages forced EMID to close the building at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the school was behind-the-scenes maneuvering last session at the Legislature, where lawmakers ultimately balked at passing a bill that would have conveyed the building to an entity willing to preserve its unique integration model.

Both Perpich and District 833 were vying for the building, though the local district fell out of favor after confirming the integration model would not be part of its plans for the space.

District 833 officials last month pulled up whatever stakes they had remaining in the building's future. After EMID School Board named Perpich Center as its preferred operator, District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus said South Washington County Schools would no longer pursue acquisition of the building.

Perpich Center management drew overwhelming support on the EMID School Board, but not from Jim Gelbmann, who also serves on District 833's school board.

He said he likes "the outcome for students," but opposed the process leading up to the decisions. Gelbmann said he now sees a tenuous future for the school.

"I think Perpich has over-promised," he said.

Perpich leaders estimated class sizes between 10-24 students at Crosswinds, which Gelbmann said are not realistic due to what he called "limited revenue streams." As it stands, Crosswinds will receive the same state funding that any other Minnesota school district would based on population, along with boilerplate special-education funding -- along with transportation costs paid by the state.

Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, who helped shepherd the Perpich takeover after the session ended, flatly rejected Gelbmann's assertion.

"It's a very sound plan and I disagree with Mr. Gelbmann on that," she said. "There's no question in my mind that Perpich has the background and the experience to run this program."

Gelbmann also pointed out that Crosswinds students -- who are culled from throughout the east metro through the magnet school -- will not have referendum dollars follow them from their home school districts. That would have been the case had legislation passed at the Capitol, he noted.

"I want to see Crosswinds continue," Gelbmann said, "but Perpich is promising more than it can deliver."

Not so, Ward contends.

"I think (Gelbmann) would not be satisfied under any circumstances," she said. "Everything he has brought up has been addressed and has been addressed to the satisfaction of everyone else."

Question marks also punctuate the matter of teachers for the fall. As part of the closure, Crosswinds teachers were let go from their jobs there, but in many cases were able to maintain tenure by returning to jobs in their home districts.

Mohr said this week "all interested teachers" will be given an opportunity to learn about Crosswinds through Perpich. She said Perpich officials expressed confidence that the school will be fully staffed come September.

"They have a recruitment plan in place that they will begin on," Mohr said.

Gelbmann warned that a one-year job with a cloudy future at Crosswinds might be a tough sell to teachers. He said he hopes enough will come forward and be "willing to take the risk that the Legislature will next year make this permanent."

Ward said the next step will be to create a legislative pathway to make Perpich's role permanent. She said she hopes to begin that effort by organizing a joint pre-session hearing among House and Senate members that would satisfy questions surrounding Crosswinds and Perpich.

After that, a bill will have to be drafted for possible inclusion in next year's public works bill. That effort has not yet begun, Ward said, citing a first-things-first approach.

"I would like to have this settled so we can just go in and move on," she said.

For now, Ward said she's just happy to see Crosswinds revived after what she described as an arduous past several months.

"I'm delighted," she said of the school's new connection to Perpich. "It's been a long journey with a lot of people working together to bring this about."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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