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'Taste of South Washington County' schools foundation fundraiser set for April 22

Entertainment at previous fundraisers for the South Washington County Schools Education Foundation included Park High School musicians led by now-retired band director Peter Bergman. Submitted photo

A local foundation is reviving a popular event to benefit area schools.

The South Washington County Schools Education Foundation is bringing back its big annual fundraiser, "Taste of South Washington County Extravaganza," on Monday, April 22, in Woodbury.

Food vendors from Cottage Grove and the Woodbury area will fill bellies while the foundation tries to fill its coffers. The foundation will distribute the money it raises in grants to District 833 schools for innovative education curriculum or equipment.

"I've had people say to me, 'We've enjoyed this. Are they doing it again?'" Extravaganza organizer Natalie Seim said. "It's exciting to bring it back."

The Extravaganza's return after a three-year hiatus comes as the foundation is changing the way it awards grants. The foundation's board used to allocate dollars based on applications from individual teachers.

Organizers said the old system could benefit teachers who are adept grant writers and did not necessarily reflect a significant source of foundation donations: school staff and teachers.

The new approach opens grant eligibility to any District 833 school whose teachers and staff participate in an employee foundation donation program, which long has been one of the foundation's key sources of money.

Teachers within the recipient schools will decide how to use the grant money. The foundation board still will sign off on the grants.

"We believe the critical difference is now staff is driving where the grants are going to go," said Vicki Strong, who serves on the foundation board.

The change led to a doubling of teacher and staff donations to the foundation.

"We believe the 200 percent increase in employee donations to the Foundation this year speaks well of the new process," said Joel Bexell, a local pastor and the foundation's chairman. "The educators are the ones who know where the needs are. They also understand which innovative programs could have far-reaching impact on a larger scale probably much better than any of the Board members. It makes good sense that staff would take the lead in selecting the programs to receive grants."

The foundation has doled out nearly $500,000 in grants to District 833 teachers and classrooms since 1996, much of it going toward new classroom technology. Grant totals vary widely by year, depending on fundraising success. No grants were distributed in 2011, but in 2002 there was $62,000 to give.

The Extravaganza traditionally has served as the foundation's main revenue source.

There are at least a dozen vendors signed up for next week's event. They include: Sunsets in Woodbury; Yo-Joe's in Cottage Grove; Machine Shed in Lake Elmo; David's Chophouse in Woodbury; Great Harvest Bread in Woodbury; Carbone's on Lake Road in Woodbury; Mississippi Dunes in Cottage Grove; Jimmy Johns in Woodbury; American Motorsports Bar and Grill in Cottage Grove; Sole Mio Ristorante in Woodbury; District 833 Nutrition Services; and bottled water supplier Premium Waters.

Entertainment will include the district's three high school jazz bands. There will also be a silent auction.

Organizers are hoping for a big turnout. The foundation's grant amount for 2013 will depend on its fundraising.

"The more we raise, the more we have to give," Strong said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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