South Washington County Schools to make pitch for Crosswinds building

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South Washington County Schools will make a pitch to obtain the Crosswinds school building from a struggling education organization and run its own programming there.

If that sounds familiar, it's because a similar effort was developed, but ultimately dropped, in 2013.

Four years later, the Crosswinds Arts and Sciences School in Woodbury faces an even more uncertain future. Meanwhile, District 833 has grown, expects continued enrollment increases and sees potential uses for the building located within its boundaries.

District 833 is preparing a general proposal at Minnesota lawmakers' request about how it could use the Crosswinds building and continue to meet state requirements that it operate as a magnet school with a focus on racial integration.

There's a potentially big catch: It could cost $10 million to acquire the building.

"The board would definitely have to take a strong look at that," Superintendent Keith Jacobus said of the District 833 School Board.

Crosswinds Arts and Science School was operated by the East Metro Integration District — a collaboration of St. Paul and surrounding suburban districts, including South Washington County — until 2013. Districts started leaving the collaboration, opting to run their own racial integration programming. District 833 proposed acquiring Crosswinds at that time, but backed out due to an inability to alter the programming.

The Perpich Center for Arts Education, which operates an arts high school in Golden Valley, stepped in to manage the Crosswinds program, which serves grades 6-10.

Crosswinds' student enrollment has declined in recent years.

Also, Perpich's management and operations struggles were detailed in a state legislative auditor's report in January. That spurred discussion of removing Crosswinds from Perpich's oversight.

District 833 isn't the only possible future Crosswinds owner. St. Paul Public Schools already developed a plan to take it over, and the Crosswinds board endorsed that proposal.

However, Rep. Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie, the Minnesota House education finance committee chairwoman, asked for a proposal from District 833, Jacobus said.

The District 833 School Board supports continuing the Crosswinds building discussion.

"We are engaged in the process," said board member Ron Kath, who was chairman the last time the district eyed acquiring Crosswinds.

Jacobus cautioned that District 833's upcoming proposal for lawmakers only will offer two general ideas on how it could use the building. He said any detailed plan would need extensive public vetting and input.

"It's unfair to do too much planning without inviting the community in," he said.

Administrators do not believe the Crosswinds building could be used for the Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion school, Jacobus said.

Part of the Crosswinds acquisition discussion will include exploring whether the district could use lease levy revenue to pay off the building, and how that would affect property taxes. Lease levy collections are allowed by the state for certain purposes. The lease levy does not require voter approval.

The Crosswinds building also is home to the Woodbury Leadership Academy, a charter school that leases space but likely would have to move after the 2017-18 school year.

The 2017-18 school year would serve as a transition period, giving District 833 — or whichever district or nonprofit organization that operates Crosswinds — to develop an education plan.

"There could be potential to offer another type of choice program that would be great for our kids and our parents," Jacobus said, adding the district had not been thinking recently of the Crosswinds building. "It's a great opportunity to have, but it wasn't a pressing need coming forward."