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Persell, Bemidji School District discuss issues

Trouble with school bus fuel filters freezing was among some of the concerns that Bemidij School Board members and district administrators discussed with Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, at a meeting Monday night.

One of the district's main concerns for the upcoming legislative session was keeping the state transportation funding formula fair and removing unwanted transportation mandates.

Leinen said the district "had some interesting dilemmas with transportation" Monday morning. Biodiesel fuel filters were freezing up and causing problems in some of the buses, Leinen said.

"This is an issue I don't know if we can get any kind of traction on either, but biodiesel fuel freezes up," he said. "It fills the filters because it's got particulate in it. When the filters freeze, buses don't run so good in negative-20. While there's a mandate to have a certain type of fuel, on one hand it's not a bad idea, but on the other hand, it is not terribly functional. For us, it's not working out."

Leinen said he is hopeful the issue of transportation and equity will be brought up in the legislative session.

"We would like to see some relationship to funding and cost, which to me is what government should be all about," Leinen said. "Let's pay for what we get; let's not pay for something we're not getting."

Hess thanked Persell for offering a bill on the issue of transportation funding during a House Education Committee hearing last year.

"Maybe we'll be able to bring that bill up again on transportation equity," Persell said. "You just never know what is going to come out as an end product on a lot of these issues. I think we're going to come out of this session with some good products -- that's my personal opinion."

Persell listened as the school board addressed its second concern - giving school boards the authority to approve operating levies.

"It isn't necessarily something we're lobbying hard for because we want to do it," school board member John Pugleasa said. "It's another tool in the box. Right now, all of our choices are to either cut or to mount an effort for an additional levy."

Leinen told Persell he also thinks the state loses money when school districts have to go out to borrow money because of state tax shifts.

"There are aspects of school funding that would take place better on a single, one-time basis at the state level," Leinen said.

Persell said he was supportive of the idea of school boards having local authority to approve levies.

"Why not have those authorities at the local level?" Persell asked, rhetorically. "When you start messing around with school budgets like that, it seems to me it might help level the playing field."

The school board's third concern is for the state to rewrite the school finance formula so a kindergarten student would receive the same amount of funding as a first-grade student.

Currently, a kindergarten student receives a .62 full-time equivalent funding level, Hess said.

"If schools want to step up and have a full-time program for kindergarten, it should be treated as a 1.0 FTE formula," Hess said.

Persell said he does not know his committee assignments yet. He said he has put in requests to be on the natural resources and education committees.

"I don't know what kind of progress we'll be able to make, but we'll try to do the best we can," Persell said. "I trust you understand that I will do my very best."

Last week the school board met with Sen.-elect John Carlson, R-Bemidji. According to Carol Peterson, district administrative assistant, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, had an excused absence from Monday's meeting. But Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, were no-shows.

"I'm disheartened with the showing tonight when we make the effort to connect with our elected officials," Pugleasa said before the meeting adjourned. "I believe our desire is to work in concert with our elected officials and to do what's best for our community. And we recognize many voices need to be brought into one common good."