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Panel balks at District 833 plan to acquire Crosswinds school

Eric Celeste, whose son attends Crosswinds in Woodbury, uses an electronic tablet to record South Washington County Schools Superintendent Keith Jacobus present to a board that oversees the integration school. Celeste operates a website for EMID families. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

South Washington County Schools submitted an incomplete plan to take over the Crosswinds school in Woodbury, but had faced a tight deadline and was granted more time to develop its proposal.

However, District 833 now may have competition as it seeks to acquire the integration school located within its own boundaries.

The East Metro Integration District School Board, which oversees Crosswinds Arts and Sciences School and Harambee Community School, voted Wednesday, Nov. 28, to allow other organizations interested in the Crosswinds building to submit an alternative plan.

A divided EMID board gave District 833 and certain other organizations that want to continue running Crosswinds about a month to prepare proposals for the school's future. District 833 had been considered the sole suitor for the school.

EMID board members who supported broadening the search for a new Crosswinds operator said that move should not be viewed as a vote against District 833. Rather, they said, EMID needs to consider all of its options and acknowledged giving District 833 little time to prepare its initial proposal.

Faced with the inability to financially sustain the two integration schools into the future, the EMID board previously decided to offer Harambee and Crosswinds to any of the 10 school districts that belong to EMID. Only South Washington County Schools stepped forward for the Crosswinds building, which houses a voluntary magnet program that integrates students in grades 6-10 from urban and suburban districts. The Roseville school district wants to take over Harambee beginning next year; that school offers a similar program to students in grades K-5.

EMID board members were enthusiastic about Roseville's proposal to continue operating Harambee but did not formally vote on the plan. Harambee is in northwest Maplewood but within the Roseville school district boundary.

There are far more questions surrounding Crosswinds' future.

District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus said South Washington County Schools wants the Crosswinds building near Weir Drive and Tamarack Road but proposes that EMID continue operating the program through the 2013-14 school year. That would provide some continuity for students while giving District 833 time to develop a long-term plan for the school building and its programming, Jacobus said.

"We're very committed to putting together a proposal that's sustainable," Jacobus said, adding he could not yet say whether District 833 would continue the integration program as it currently is run. Jacobus said District 833 needs to do an extensive study of its future needs.

"We need a bit of time to look forward," he said.

District 833 faces space constraints in some of its existing school buildings. Three of four middle schools are at or near capacity -- Cottage Grove, Woodbury and Lake -- adding to the attraction of acquiring an additional school building at no cost. Also, the district expects enrollment to climb in the future with further residential development in Woodbury and, to a lesser extent, Cottage Grove.

Jim Gelbmann, a member of the District 833 School Board and its representative on the EMID board, said South Washington County Schools only had about a month to put together a plan for how it would operate Crosswinds before Jacobus went before the EMID board Wednesday.

Considering that tight timeframe, District 833 put together a realistic plan, Gelbmann said. He opposed the decision to accept proposals from other education groups. The vote was 5-4.

EMID Superintendent Janet Mohr said by January the board must decide whether to accept District 833's phased-in plan to acquire Crosswinds, look at other governance options or close the school altogether at the end of the current school year. That largely is because a state law sets out a March deadline for informing teachers of their employment status for the following school year.

If 833's proposal was granted, EMID could afford to run Crosswinds for another year should Roseville's planned acquisition of Harambee also be approved, Mohr said, because EMID no longer would pay overhead to operate Harambee.

District 833 would not have to pay to acquire the Crosswinds building, but would have to continue providing educational programming. Due to a definition in state law and Crosswinds' location within the District 833 school boundaries, other potential Crosswinds operators are limited to not-for profit school groups such as intermediate districts or a state-run non-traditional school program. Charter schools do not fit the definition, Mohr said.

The EMID board will meet Dec. 19 to review whatever Crosswinds proposals it receives.

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.

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