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Senator wants more money spent on school busing

By Don Davis

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Sen. Joe Gimse announced a plan to take $95 million from Twin Cities transit funds, and another $5 million from rural funds, to increase spending on school bus programs statewide.

It is a plan that Democrats in control of the Minnesota Legislature say they will not consider.

"It would ensure students get to school and back safely," Gimse, a Willmar Republican, said Monday about his plan.

But taking money from the Metropolitan Council, which runs Twin Cities buses, is not sitting well with Democrats.

"The bad news is that once again, we're seeing them rob Peter to pay Paul -- and on the very same day that we hear from the Met Council that the economic downturn has significantly reduced the pool of money they use to operate metro buses," House Education Finance Chairwoman Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said he would not give the bill a hearing in his transit committee.

Gimse said his proposal would give his schools in Willmar an extra $530,875 for buses and Tracy, in southwestern Minnesota, $106,038. St. Paul schools would receive nearly $5 million more in the next two-year budget.

The first-term senator said 240,000 people board Twin Cities buses each day, while nearly 1.5 million students use school buses on a typical day. He said those figures prove that "we should shift our priorities."

Holdingford schools superintendent John Haas said the bill would allow his district to replace aging buses, which cost up to $85,000 each.

Schools need more bus money, Gimse said. "They are cutting back routes and making children walk further distances."

The proposal would pay school districts $137 over the next two years for every pupil who rides a bus.

Jackson change OK'd

Jackson County could join a growing list of counties in removing a combined auditor-treasurer position from elective office.

Senators tentatively approved the change 50-13 Monday, as long as 10 percent of the county's registered voters sign a petition approving the move.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, voted against the measure, saying it removes a valuable chance for the public to vote on a county official. He is a former county sheriff.

Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, brought up the bill, saying: "The county is all for it."