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Crosswinds parents vow: 'We're not going away'

Crosswinds School, in the East Metro Integration District, is located on Weir Drive near the Tamarack Road, I-494 Interchange in Woodbury with 65 students from School District 833 attending.

With no action from the Legislature to give Crosswinds Arts and Science School to the Perpich Center for the Arts and reject School District 833's interest in acquiring it, parents of Crosswinds students and five legislators took their case to the East Metro Integration District School Board last week to try and stop the closure of Crosswinds on July 29.

With an EMID decision to close Crosswinds, all of its tenured teachers and the principal already have found jobs in the 10 member school districts.

Dan Larson, a Crosswinds parent, said no action by the Legislature was "devastating for us," and he blamed behind-the-scenes maneuvering, adding that Crosswinds can only be used as a magnet integration school.

"We are not going away," he said, "and we'll work to bring the school back."

Leslye Taylor, a Woodbury mother of a Crosswinds student, urged the board to be thoughtful and honor the integration purpose of the school. "None of us got what we wanted at the Legislature," she said, adding that she wants to bring back the school.

Eric Celeste, a Crosswinds parent organizer, said the parents don't believe EMID's assertion that the economic model to operate the school was unsustainable.

If the school were brought back, some families and teachers would return, he said.

Celeste also gave a letter to the EMID board from one of the attorneys who litigated the case on behalf of the NAACP against Minnesota in 1994 that resulted in state integration money given to districts surrounding St. Paul and Minneapolis to further integration efforts. The letter stated that failure to further integration could bring the matter back to court again.

Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, told EMID members that attending an alternative school "saved his life" and he is now working on a doctorate. He spoke about the importance of alternative schools such as Crosswinds.

Getting a deal done to transfer the school to Perpich died in the Senate, he said. Isaacson and other DFL legislators -- Sen. John Marty of Roseville, Rep. JoAnn Ward of Woodbury, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL of St. Paul and Rep. Peter Fischer of Maplewood -- were seated in front of the EMID board to support finding a way to keep Crosswinds open and give Perpich the rights to run it.

"South Washington County Schools is never going to get that school," Isaacson said.

Marty said it would cost $700,000 to mothball Crosswinds for a year and, maybe, spur a lawsuit.

EMID board member Jim Gelbmann, who is a School District 833 board member, said Perpich officials told EMID it would need an additional appropriation of $2 to $3 million to operate Crosswinds. Later, when the Legislature was in session, Perpich said it didn't need an appropriation and could operate it on state aid that would come with students. Gelbmann said it was a "bait-and-switch" tactic.

Both schools had to be closed on the same day, Gelbmann said, or teachers would not have rights to bid on teaching jobs in the member districts.

"Is there a conflict of interest on the board?" Fischer said, referring to Gelbmann. "Is it about the money or the kids? What are the integration funds going for? I have the feeling that someone was trying to grab a school."

Gelbmann, at a previous EMID board meeting, said he had consulted the Minnesota attorney general's office and was given an opinion that he doesn't have a conflict of interest by serving on both boards because he isn't receiving any money.

There are committed parents at Crosswinds, Ward said, who need to be assured that the building will be open in September.

"Perpich has everything ready to go," she said.

EMID board members defended themselves.

"It isn't that we don't care about the kids," said board member Karen Morehead, who represents the Forest Lake School District.

EMID board Chair George Hoeppner, who represents Stillwater Area Schools, said the EMID board did its best for students and families and for teachers who have already secured jobs.

Marty urged the EMID board to take action at last week's meeting to contract with Perpich.

Gelbmann said the contract with Roseville went smoothly because there were no constraints as there would be with Perpich.

"I don't want to hold out false hope," Gelbmann said.

"It's worth a week," or it won't happen," Marty said.

Board members, reluctant to pass a resolution, asked Superintendent Janet Mohr to get more information from the Department of Education.

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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