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District 833 School Board moves forward on Crosswinds takeover

Crosswinds Arts and Science School could be absorbed by District 833 according to a proposal.

The District 833 School Board is one step closer to absorbing the Crosswinds school in Woodbury.

Board members unanimously agreed to proceed with a letter of interest to the East Metro Integration District, which can no longer afford to operate the integration school.

The school, built in 2003 by EMID, is located on Weir Drive near the Tamarack Road/Interstate 494 interchange in Woodbury. It houses students in grades 6-10. With a capacity of 600, the school is only half full of students from 10 EMID member school districts.

Established to further integration in St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts that are considered racially isolated, Crosswinds, and Harambee, an elementary school in Maplewood, are operated by EMID.

South Washington County Schools gets most of its integration money, about $2.4 million, from the state. There is also a local levy with District 833 contributing $1 million to EMID with two-thirds of the money going to operate the two schools.

When the Legislature decided three years ago to change the integration mission to emphasize closing the achievement gap between white and students of color, member districts wanted to keep more money to build their own programs. Last year, member districts said they were decreasing their contributions to EMID by 20 percent.

That move led to EMID using its fund balance to keep the two schools open this year, but the model is unsustainable into the future, said District 833 Board Member Jim Gelbmann, who is also the district's representative on the EMID board.

Crosswinds was built and paid for by the state, Gelbmann said. As long as District 833 operates the school for educational purposes, there is no cost to take the building.

The EMID board will consider District 833's letter of interest at this week's meeting and a final decision is expected in December, Gelbmann said.

Taking control of Crosswinds comes at an opportune time for District 833, the only one of the 10 member schools submitting a letter of interest.

Cottage Grove, Lake and Woodbury middle schools are near capacity. Cottage Grove and Lake middle schools are closed to transfers from within and outside the district. Oltman Middle School is not near its capacity.

The Crosswinds' baccalaureate program is a natural tie-in for the IB program at Park High School, said District 833 School Board member Ron Kath.

Many decisions lie ahead for District 833 in forging an agreement with EMID to acquire the school. The school is on a year-around schedule and its teachers have seniority rights in all of the EMID member districts.

There might also be a problem with the time period for a takeover. District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus prefers a two-year plan to allow for planning, but the EMID board might be troubled by that, according to Gelbmann.

EMID's decision to move forward will probably will include an agreement that either side can withdraw from at any time during the process, Gelbmann said.

Gelbmann said he consulted with the Minnesota attorney general's office about a possible conflict of interest since he serves on the District 833 School Board and EMID's board, but he said he was told there was no conflict because there would be no financial gain.

Some Crosswinds parents would prefer the curriculum be carried over if District 833 took control of the school.

At last week's District 833 School Board meeting, Leslye Taylor, a parent of an eighth-grade Crosswinds student, said the school's International Baccalaureate program "is wonderful." What her daughter is learning now, Taylor said, "underscores integration."

Taylor and Kelly DeBrine have a daughter who attends Park High School and went to Crosswinds, and a son at Crosswinds. They asked the board to continue current programs if it takes over the school, adding that they are willing to be part of 833's planning process.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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