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Viewpoint: Foundation fair in grant-giving

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As members of the South Washington County Schools Education Foundation Grant Review Team, we were disappointed to see the article titled "North-South Divide Shows Up in Education Foundation Grant Awards" published in the Bulletin Nov. 5. The article seemed intent on creating division and ill will among the communities that make up South Washington County Schools. We found the article to be misleading and omitted important facts.

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For instance, the reporter only took into account grants since 2003 when the Foundation has been awarding grants since 1996. Our calculations found a 6 percent difference in grant awards, which is not a large disparity when you account for almost $500,000 in total Education Foundation grant awards over the 12-year history. Any grant funding differences between schools or communities can best be attributed to the funding available to a particular school, the emphasis placed on grants and fundraising, and having a few passionate teachers who go above and beyond to write grants.

All teachers receive the same information on the grant application guidelines and the application scoring criteria. Grant writing support is provided to teachers who seek assistance. The grants are then reviewed by as many as 14 team members that include Foundation Directors, principals, teachers and staff representation from Finance, Teaching & Learning Services and the Office of Equity and Integration. Term limits on specific positions allow for new people to be involved in the process. Each written proposal is evaluated on innovation, creativity, clarity, implementation, measurable outcomes, evaluation, sustainability and budget. The grants found to best meet the foundation's grant program guidelines are funded to the fullest extent possible given the funding available.

The article implies that Dale Wolpers' participation on the grant review team gives Cottage Grove Junior High an unfair advantage for grants. To prevent this from happening, team members abstain from discussions and do not vote on grants submitted by their particular school. The article did accurately state that grant writing at Cottage Grove Junior High is promoted and encouraged. As with any type of fundraising activity, it is based on school needs and interests, individual teacher initiative, and administrative support.

Recently, the team met to review another round of grants. We agonized over how to fund only some of the grant proposals when we'd like to fund them all. We appreciated the teachers who took the initiative to offer their students new opportunities and go above and beyond to write a grant. We carefully followed the documented process to identify the most innovative projects to support the Education Foundation's mission, which supports academic excellence. At no time now or in the past has there ever been preference given to schools based on their geographic location.

The foundation's grant program was created to help fund innovative projects and programming that can't be funded through general district budgets. We appreciate the work of the foundation and its volunteer members to make this opportunity possible for all of the teachers and students throughout South Washington County schools.

The SWCS Education Foundation Grant Review Team Foundation directors include Rhonda Mann, Janet Roskowinski, Mark Perry, Darrell Silverness and Alberder Gillespie. District staff members include Dale Wolpers, Kristine Schaefer, Mary Seidel, Jenn Reichel, Sandy Pugh, Nou Thao, Lori Dalluhn and Jodi Witte.

Jodi Witte is School District 833's coordinator of grants.

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