East Metro Integration District considers closing its two schoolsby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Two schools in a little-known district in the Twin Cities could be up for closure.
Crosswinds school in Woodbury and Harambee School in Maplewood are not charter schools and they're not technically part of any traditional school district. These two schools exist in a bureaucratic netherworld called an integration district. There are only three such districts in Minnesota, and operate like co-ops.
The East Metro Integration District was formed in the 1990s for St. Paul and several neighboring districts to collaborate on efforts related to school integration.
Now there's debate over whether the district should continue in its current form.
"Its original intent was integration." Jerry Robicheau, EMID interim superintendent said. "Creating an environment where students could come in and be educated in a multi-cultural environment and understand the cultural differences that exist in our society."
When integration districts were created during the 1990s, most of the districts in them were mostly White. Since then, shifting demographics has brought to home districts what EMID aimed to accomplish 15 years ago, Robicheau said.
About 850 students attend EMID's two schools from kindergarten through 10th grade.
The East Metro District, or EMID, receives funding and students from ten east metro school districts: St. Paul, Roseville, Stillwater. Forest Lake, Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul, Spring Lake Park, South Washington County, West St. Paul,-Mendota Heights-Eagan and White Bear Lake.
The reason districts pay for EMID, instead of just keeping that money, has to do with EMID's history.
Demographics aren't the only thing to have changed since the EMID schools opened, so has the entire conversation around integration.
No longer does integration entail merely mixing students of all ethnicities, integration now addresses issues of student performance, and the gap between White and minority students.
A group of school board members from each of the ten member districts will decide the two schools' fates. John Brodrick, a member of the St. Paul School Board, also sits on the EMID board.
"Does it make sense for us, as individual districts, to fund these two schools when they have not necessarily conquered the achievement gap," Brodrick said.
Brodrick is undecided on whether to close the schools.
Parents of EMID students, like Mike Boguszewski, say they were caught off guard by how quickly the process is moving.
"Why the hurry, on the part of the superintendent to try to get the board members to do this now," Boguszewski said. "We just can't understand that."
Also at issue is state funding called integration aid, which makes up about 35 percent of EMID's $11 million dollar budget. GOP lawmakers wanted to eliminate that funding this year, citing audits that found the law doesn't clearly define how to use the money.
Integration aid got a reprieve in final budget talks, but a task force will recommend ways to repurpose the funding.
EMID's board could vote on the school closures by year's end. Eric Celeste, who has a ninth grader at Crosswinds, said he can't understand why district leaders would act before the task force's report early next year.
"There are many cases of integration money misspent; EMID is a place where it really was working. We didn't expect our board to turn around and preempt that process,' Celeste said. "We're just baffled."
Should the EMID schools close, home districts — some with budgets woes — would get back some of the money they contribute to EMID.
"If there's an opportunity for more of that money to come back to the district schools, to where they can set up inter-district partnerships, I'm sure that's something the superintendents are looking at," said George Hoeppner, who sits on the Stillwater and EMID school boards.
For now, state officials keeps out of the discussion. State Education commissioner Brenda Cassellius, a former superintendent of the EMID district, declined to comment.
- Morning Edition, 08/31/2011, 7:25 a.m.