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Bemidji seeks change in state transportation funding distribution

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

At Bemidji Day at the Capitol next month in St. Paul, a delegation from the Bemidji School District plans to ask legislators to revise the transportation funding formula for schools.

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Chris Leinen, the school district's director of business services, told Bemidji School Board members Monday night that the current formula forces some districts - including Bemidji - to use classroom dollars to provide mandated student transportation.

Meanwhile, he said, some districts are making a profit.

He said the formula needs to have a closer correlation to transportation costs at districts throughout Minnesota.

"Really, what I want you to see is the big picture," he said as he pulled out a map comparing the geographical areas of the Bemidji School District and the Richfield School District, which is located in the metro area. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words."

During fiscal year 2003-04, the Bemidji School District - 833.38 square miles in size - transported 5,477 students while the Richfield School District - 15.19 square miles in size - transported 2,691 students, Leinen said.

However, he said, Bemidji received about $1.88 million in transportation revenue while Richfield received about $1.1 million based on each district's enrollment numbers.

He noted that the Bemidji School District's cost of operation plus depreciation was about $2.18 million while that of the Richfield district was $534,033.

While Bemidji had to dip into classroom dollars to make up the $295,886 shortfall, Richfield had $568,523 to spare, according to Leinen.

"What we're hoping to do is open some eyes," Leinen said of the March 28 Bemidji Day at the Capitol.

He said the state should implement the recommendation of the 2002 Pupil Transportation Finance Report prepared at the direction of the 2001 state Legislature by updating the coefficients in the transportation sparsity formula.

The report, Leinen said, recommended that the formula be changed because of the effect it was having on rural districts.

"We want to blow the dust off (the report)," he added.

The School Board meeting Monday night also included a vote on the tentative agreement with bus drivers for 2005-07, which includes a 30 cent per hour increase of the salary schedule for 2005-06 and a 50 cent per hour increase for 2006-07. The School Board voted unanimously to approve.

Also on Monday night, Kim Kusler, a member of the committee drafting an application for Quality Compensation for Teachers, briefly outlined the draft application. Q Comp is a new alternative compensation plan for teachers proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last year.

According to Superintendent Jim Hess, neither the Bemidji Education Association nor the School Board has yet voted on the draft application. But, he added, the School Board will be asked to vote on it in March.

At its March meeting, the School Board also will vote on the 2006-07 school calendar for the district, Hess said Monday night. He said two calendar options have been developed.

Both calendars begin with staff development Aug. 29-30 and student orientation day Aug. 31. The first calendar marks June 7 as the last day for students and the second calendar marks June 5 as the last day. Also, the first calendar allows for a weeklong spring break in March with a shorter Easter break and the second calendar allows for a shorter spring break in March and a longer break for Easter.

According to Hess, the district plans to post the two calendars on the district's Web site soon for the public to view. The Web site is bemidji.k12.mn.us.

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