Board chair of Perpich Center unexpectedly resigns

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Students walk the halls at the Perpich Arts HS.
Students walk the halls at the Perpich Arts High School in Golden Valley in February.
Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News file

The board chair of the state-run Perpich Center for Arts Education stepped down unexpectedly at a meeting Thursday night.

Pierce McNally
Pierce McNally resigned as chair of the Perpich Center for Arts Education board Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016.
Courtesy of the Perpich Center for Arts Education

"As a result of a very recent confluence of occupational, personal and professional opportunities and obligations, I must announce that with great reluctance and with deep regret this will be my last meeting," Pierce McNally said. McNally declined to discuss his resignation further after the meeting.

The move comes amid allegations that the agency is being mismanaged by its current leadership.

The Perpich Center oversees its namesake residential arts high school in Golden Valley and provides professional development and arts outreach programs to schools around the state. It also took charge of Crosswinds, an arts and sciences middle school in Woodbury, in 2013.

Shortly after that takeover, parents at Crosswinds expressed concerns about Perpich's management of the school. They said Crosswinds had reduced arts programming and that school leadership was not transparent. At the time, Perpich Center executive director Sue Mackert turned aside the criticism and highlighted the school's efforts to incorporate art into classes across the curriculum.

McNally's resignation Thursday leaves the Perpich Center board temporarily in the hands of first-year board member Benjamin Vander Kooi, who was appointed vice chair at Thursday's meeting. Vander Kooi said he was not informed in advance about McNally's plans.

Board member Mat Ollig said the move also took him by surprise. Ollig is on a board task force investigating complaints about the agency's leadership. Ollig says the task force aimed to present recommendations at Thursday's meeting, but other board members disagreed over the agenda item and the presentation was delayed.

Ollig says he hopes to do a survey of current and former agency staff to help the investigation.

"I feel that the public opinion does have some basis in reality," Ollig said. "However the extent and the cause of that I have yet to truly, fully comprehend. It's going to take several weeks to get at the truth of what's going on, and my hope is that what I find is not nearly as terrible as what all of the naysayers are saying. But if it turns out that all of their concerns are well-founded, then this board will take action, and it will make changes."

The Perpich Center is also undergoing two legislative audits. The results of the audits are due out over the next few months.

Correction (Sept. 9, 2016): Mat Ollig's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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