When the school now known as Perpich Center for the Arts
opened its doors more than 30 years ago, it was a trailblazer for arts education. The school offered a robust academic education with a focus on arts to students from all over the state.
A legislative audit released this year says the school isn’t running as it should be. Proposed legislation could close the school.
“It’s certainly a very sobering report,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) in a one of the hearings about the audit. “This is not the only report that raises questions."
Board chair Ben Vander Kooi says the school is using the audit to make important changes.
“This school is absolutely necessary. It fills a niche that can’t be filled in any other way,” says Vander Kooi. “We understand there are charter schools out there, but they have a different look and different feel and they don’t have a statewide mission.”Enrollment challenges
Decreasing enrollment is one of the concerns. The school has a capacity for 310 students, but this year there are only 179 enrolled. Vander Kooi says enrollment is tied directly to statewide outreach.
“There’s no question we have to have more students here and especially students from greater Minnesota,” says Vander Kooi.
One idea is to turn over administration of Crosswinds Arts and Science School to the St. Paul Public Schools. When Perpich took over administrative duties of Crosswinds, outreach resources were cut. Currently, there’s only one staff member dedicated to outreach in greater Minnesota.
“We have asked the legislature to transfer that to another school district. We have a great proposal that we received from St. Paul Public Schools and if that happens and that school is in a safe place, we can take those resources and focus just on this campus and outreach to the rest of the state,” says Vander Kooi.
Perpich maintains they have solid academics that aren’t often reflected in standardized test scores.
“Although the school does the testing, a number of students have opted out and we have a very small pool of students who account for those scores,” says Vander Kooi.
Teachers will be putting a greater focus on encouraging students to take the tests in order to boost test scores. Perpich is currently accepting applications for a new executive director and they have received more than 30 applications. They also encourage students to apply for admission until the April 15 deadline.
In the meantime, the Perpich community is contacting legislators and working to keep their school open.
“This is a critical time,” says Vander Kooi. “The next 60 days will determine whether Perpich will survive, if we get enough support from the community, we can make that happen.”
The school directs people to the website perpich.mn.gov
to learn more about the audit and proposed changes.
Shannon Slatton, firstname.lastname@example.org
on Twitter: @sslatton
March 17, 2017