Gary Benson Named Outstanding Benefactor District 916 Education Foundation
Pictured above left: Gary Benson receiving the 916 Education Foundation Outstanding Benefactor award from Board President Tom Gallagher at the Foundation gala Feb. 22, 2019. Above right: This African drumming and dance workshop at Karner Blue Education Center is among the programs funded through the 916 Education Foundation.
One of the best lessons we can learn in school, or in life, is the value of sharing. By sharing limited resources, intermediate school districts are able to elevate the school experience by providing programs and equipment that standard funding can’t reach. The Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District Education Foundation is helping the district bridge that funding gap; thanks to the steadfast help of leaders like Gary Benson.
Gary Benson, Kraus-Anderson’s director of project planning and development, was recently named Outstanding Benefactor by the Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District Education Foundation. The award recognizes Benson for his extraordinary contributions to the foundation and the school district.
Benson has served on the foundation’s board since 1995 and has held numerous leadership positions including board president. He has obtained more than $50,000 in donations to the foundation in the past eight years.
The nonprofit 916 Education Foundation (www.916educationfoundation.org) helps students, teachers and member districts of Northeast Metro 916 excel in programs that are not funded by public tax revenues. The foundation has supported the district for more than 25 years, and over the last five years has awarded more than a half a million dollars in scholarships and grants for students and teachers.
Northeast Metro 916 is one of three intermediate school districts in Minneosta, serving approximately 4,000 students through shared programming that includes career and technical education, special education services, area learning centers and elementary education. Through the sharing of resources, talent and ideas, Northeast Metro 916 provides cost-effective, expert and reliable services to 14 member school districts and their students and families.
Benson is the vice chair of the board of the Minnesota Higher Education Facilities Authority (MHEFA) and is a member of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Minnesota Association of School Business Officials and Minnesota School Boards Association. He received his B.A. in Mathematics and Economics from Augsburg College and his M.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Minnesota.
Gary, given your deep perspective working with numerous school districts, talk about some of the typical school funding gaps that the Intermediate District addresses.
GARY BENSON, DIRECTOR OF PROJECT PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT, KRAUS-ANDERSON CONSTRUCTION: Every school district is required to provide education to school-age students in their district. But the cost of providing appropriate learning programs to students with special learning requirements can be very expensive for any given district. Over time, as the incidence of students with learning needs has grown, school districts have turned to developing special education “districts” to provide better learning opportunities, as well as sharing the costs.
In the metro, there are Intermediate Districts, while outstate, there are Education Cooperatives or Education Districts, each of which may serve a half-dozen or more K-12 districts. For example Intermediate 916 has 14 member districts — primarily serving the NE Metro area.
Even with this sharing configuration, staffing and facility costs consume most of the available funds that can be allocated towards these cooperative efforts, so there still exists funding needs for individual classroom program enhancements and student learning aids. This is where the 916 Education and other foundations come into play, to help bridge this funding gap for the benefit of students and staff in these programs.
What are the broad areas of focus for the Foundation’s funding? Are there a few specific accomplishments over the last year you’d like to call out?
LINDA ZAHRADKA, CAP, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT, 916 EDUCATION FOUNDATION: Our three largest focus areas for the Foundation are (1) scholarships for high school students attending the 916 Career & Tech Center (CTC) and the three 916 Area Learning Centers (ALC) . We are gearing up for our 2019 scholarship season. In May 2018 we awarded a total of $37,200 in post-secondary scholarships to 64 outstanding students at the CTC and ALC. Scholarships range from $300 at the ALCs to $500-$1,000 at CTC. (2) Program grants to staff in the many programs at Northeast Metro 916. In November 2018 the Foundation Board awarded nearly $36,000 in partial and full grants to help cover the expenses of activities and equipment to enhance learning in Northeast Metro 916 programs. (3) Each year at our gala event, we host a Fund-A-Need for a specific cause—in 2019 it was for science equipment at the three Area Learning Centers. Final numbers are being tallied, but our goal was to raise $15,000 and we should be very close to that number.
GARY BENSON: We have 3 main events that bring in funding: Annual Membership Drive occurs in the fall (Sept.) and is greatly supported by our 916 staff, but also outside community members, board members, and also business partners. We also conduct the recently successful annual Gala Event, as well as the summertime Golf Tournament.
Gary, you have served the Foundation Board for over two decades. How has your work with the Foundation served your understanding of K-12 school clients across a broader spectrum?
GARY BENSON: It has really been rewarding to be a part of the Foundation and to see us meet our mission each year of providing needed learning program enhancements student achievement recognition, and staff recognition for the great job they do with our students year-in and year-out. 916 has fantastic staff members who put the students needs first and even look for ways to improve teaching and learning within the 916 programs.
My years of service as a 916 Foundation Board member has also afforded me a better understanding of special learning programs and student needs, which I have been able to bring to many of the state-wide K-12’s I work with, as well as the many Special Ed Districts and Co-ops throughout the state of Minnesota.
Are there current initiatives or goals on the horizon that either of you would care to mention?
GARY BENSON: There are always emerging program needs for students in this realm, and I think NE Metro 916 does an excellent job leading the way in these initiatives. On the other hand, from the Foundation’s standpoint, getting “attention” to our existence and mission is a challenge since we serve so many K-12 (member) districts — many of which have their own Ed Foundations. So looking forward, we are always trying to improve our “Brand” and gain recognition amongst potential supporters and sponsors who will contribute to our cause.
Any suggestions for those who may care to get involved or make a donation?
LINDA ZAHRADKA: We will have at least one board member vacancy coming up in July 2019. Community members interested in this board opportunity are invited to reach out to Gary or me. See attached board opportunity document. 2019 916 Education Foundation Board Opportunity_lzView Comments