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St. Paul, Minn. – Today, during Minnesota Public Radio’s broadcast of “Morning Editon,” reporter Solvejg Wastvedt outlined several findings including decreased student enrollment, parent dissatisfaction and lack of focus on educational missions at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley and Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury. State Rep. JoAnn Ward (DFL – Woodbury) found the report “eye-opening” and thinks it’s time for the Legislature to take a closer look at the institution.
“The concerns contained in this story are certainly serious,” Ward said. “These findings may be new to many, but I’ve heard from many parents, faculty and community members who have grown dissatisfied and question whether Perpich is truly fulfilling its educational mission.”
The Perpich Center is a public high school with an enrollment of about 209 11th and 12th graders with the mission of “providinginnovative public education services centered in the arts to Minnesota students and teachers in the K-12 system.” Opened in 1989, it is uniquely administered as a state agency with a board of directors appointed by the Governor, and an executive director hired by that board. It has an annual budget of approximately $8 million.
Ward is encouraging the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor to conduct a program evaluation of the Perpich Center which she hopes will provide a greater level of insight into the school’s operations beyond examination of balance sheets. She’d also like to see the agency fall under similar reporting requirements as other school districts for budget and accounting procedures and student data.
According to Ward, concerns first started surfacing when parents and staff reported issues beyond what could be expected in the time of the Crosswinds transition. Parent groups have been eliminated, art education expert positions have been cut, staff and student turnover has increased, and, according to some faculty members, they have been given inconsistent directions. The MPR report also noted cuts to various program areas at Crosswinds, such as theater and orchestra, and the school is no longer International Baccalaureate accredited. Ward is also concerned by the board’s “appearance of operating in a vacuum,” delegating too much oversight responsibility to the executive director without data to support her decisions.
“It appears that there a serious deficit of accountability and transparency, and the taxpayers deserve better,” Ward said. “Throughout its history, the institution has had an outside appearance of success, and I think it’s time for a higher level of accountability so the schools can achieve their missions of serving the citizens of Minnesota.”
In 2014, the Perpich Center took over the Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury, formerly part of the East Metro Integration District (EMID), a consortium of school districts in the east metro. Prior to the Perpich takeover, Crosswinds had been in danger of closing when EMID chose to divest itself of the program. However, an elementary school within the EMID mission was conveyed to the Roseville Area School district, and seems to be doing well, Ward noted.
While she had high hopes the new arrangement would bring new life to the institution in her district, Ward thinks this report, and findings of subsequent evaluations, could put this in jeopardy.
“This is something we can fix,” Ward said. “Carried out as intended, the missions of these institutions can directly impact the achievement gap and serve the students, families and entire state of Minnesota.”