A sigh of relief at Perpich Center for Arts Education

Legislation to abolish the Golden Valley-based agency is amended, new director to be selected

The Perpich Center for Arts Education’s faculty, staff members and students are celebrating after legislation that aimed to abolish the school was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton and amended by the House and Senate in May.

“It was great relief and we’re very excited that the school is being given the opportunity to re-imagine itself as the statewide asset it has been for years and will continue to be,” said Peg Birk, Perpich’s interim executive director.
Perpich leadership, which has undergone much change since January, will continue working to address issues identified in the legislative auditor’s report regarding the school’s decreased enrollment, management issues and lack of transparency.

Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, established in 1985, will remain open despite legislation to have it closed. (Submitted photo)
Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, established in 1985, will remain open despite legislation to have it closed. (Submitted photo)

On June 21, the board of directors will interview finalists for Perpich’s new executive director.

“We are very excited about the future of the entire agency,” Birk said. “We have excellent candidates. We have an excellent board of directors to begin the strategic planning process. The future is bright. We will continue focusing on addressing the concerns of the legislature and we will not disappoint the governor or legislature in the future.”

Despite the leadership’s confidence in the agency, it was nerve-wracking not knowing if it had a future while the legislature was in session, she said.

Dayton’s veto brought some relief, but the uncertainty of how the House and Senate would revise the bill was difficult to ignore.

“I think, individually, people handled uncertainty in different ways,” Birk said. “Collectively, I think that our leaders remained optimistic. We were as transparent as we could be with the info of the legislature. We all focused on our work, the work of providing students with the best possible education.”

During the wait, staff members continued their outreach program, aiming to get more students to the school if it were to stay open.

“I’m very proud of our faculty and staff who remained professional and generous and focused on the work of the agency,” she said.

The omnibus E-12 education appropriations bill addressed pre-kindergarten education, American Indian students’ education needs and Perpich Center for Arts Education, among other topics.

According to Dayton’s veto letter dated May 12, the bill fell “well short in delivering the public investment in education that will ensure our children the ability to achieve their full potential.”

“We are extremely pleased with this outcome, of course, and we plan to continue providing essential services in arts education to the students and educators of Minnesota,” said Benjamin Vander Kooi, chair of the Perpich board of directors. “The board and leadership are grateful for the strong support from the governor and his office and the center’s many friends in the legislature.”

Regarding Perpich specifically, Dayton said students interested in the arts should not be punished by closing the school. He acknowledged that the new board chair and members are working to address the issues identified by the auditor’s report.

“I insist that the school remain open,” Dayton said. “A school devoted to arts education is a statewide asset. And I will not permit you to desecrate the memory and legacy of one of Minnesota’s Governors.”
After Dayton’s veto, legislators amended the bill to allow Perpich to remain open, but required school leadership continue addressing agency issues.

Perpich has already addressed several of the auditor’s concerns, including selecting nine new members to sit on the 15-person board of directors. To address concerns about how the previous executive director operated, the board plans to review the new executive director after six months and annually thereafter.

The board’s transparency was also questioned by the auditor. The new board meets monthly, accepts public comment at each meeting, provides board members’ e-mail addresses to the public and is working to video tape meetings or upload the audio online.

In 2013, Perpich started managing a second school, Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury, but that school’s low enrollment, weak test scores and high staff turnover have threatened its future viability.
Crosswinds is creating an operating deficit of $600,000 per year for Perpich, according Vander Kooi.
While the future of Crosswinds is still uncertain, Perpich officials hope it can be incorporated into another school district.

Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]