ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican lawmakers said Wednesday that they want to close a Golden Valley arts school after a scathing audit found significant administrative spending issues and poor student results.
The bill would shutter Perpich Center for Arts Education, which is both a school and an administrative agency that oversees Crosswinds East Metro Arts and Science School. The bill would also create a Department of Education specialist to promote arts education.
Democrats fought against the bill, saying new leadership at the school has made significant process in its short tenure and should be given the chance to comply with the auditor’s recommendations.
Rep. Paul Thissen attempted to amend the bill to keep Perpich open and transfer Crosswinds to another school district, but the measure failed along party lines.
The Minneapolis Democrat said the $600,000 saved by transferring Crosswinds would provide a significant boost to struggling Perpich. Closing down the school, he said, would rid the state of a valuable resource that couldn’t be replaced by a single state outreach employee.
“I think we all know that arts education is critically, critically important,” Thissen said.
Republican Rep. Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie said the school has faced criticism for several years but has continued to lose students and have lackluster test scores. Loon, who authored the bill, said she appreciated the amendment, but worried it was acting too quickly in transferring control of a school.
Perpich was not created to be just a single school, Loon said, but to serve as an outreach agency that spread arts education throughout the state. The audit showed that the agency’s outreach efforts were hard to quantify and not necessarily effective.
Though the Office of the Legislative Auditor said that closing the school was one of four options the Legislature should consider, a representative at Wednesday’s committee meeting said the office doesn’t favor a single option.
In response to questioning, Joel Alter, the auditor at the meeting, said the recommendation to close the agency is unusual, but auditor felt it was an option to be considered because of the seriousness of the issues.
The bill will likely face opposition from Gov. Mark Dayton, who has voiced his support for keeping the school open despite the audit’s findings.
“I have recently appointed nine new members to the Perpich Center for the Arts Board of Directors. This new board should be given a chance to address the issues outlined in the Legislative Auditor’s recent report,” Dayton said in a prepared release.
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