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5 things you need to know today: Trump protests, childcare, driver pay, power plant, Dairyland tradition – InForum

1. Trump Protesters Also Target Biden Over Israel-Palestine

A protest demonstration outside a fundraising dinner featuring an appearance by former President Donald Trump featured an interesting twist.

As a half-dozen orators addressed about 50 people Friday evening at the event near Saint Paul RiverCentre, it became clear that while the protest was decidedly anti-Trump, progressives within the group also blame President Joe Biden for what they call this racist and unjust policies.

Nothing could make that clearer than both protesters and Trump supporters chanting “F— Joe Biden” back and forth.

Promoted as a pro-immigrant rally organized by the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, CAIR-MN and the Minnesota Abortion Action Committee, several pro-Palestinian signs and flags were present among the group.

An anti-war movement regarding the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has developed on college campuses across the country, with protesters – often young progressives – battling Israeli war supporters, police and their school officials.

Read more from Mark Wasson of Forum News Service

2. Minnesota Gov. Walz announces $6 million in grants to create more than 2,200 new child care locations

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Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (standing left) and DEED Commissioner Matt Varilek watch children paint at St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development in Minnetonka on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

Madison McVan / Minnesota reformer

From the Minnesota Reformer via Forum News Service

Twenty-one Minnesota organizations will receive funding this year to open or expand child care centers, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday.

More than half of the grants will go to providers outside the Twin Cities, including Alexandria, Austin, Luverne, Grand Marais, Starbuck, Northfield and Fosston.

Lawmakers last year increased funding for the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s child care subsidy program. DEED officials expect the grants will create 2,241 new child care spaces; the agency will release another $6.2 million in grants later this year.

Walz said Wednesday that child care is an example of “market failure” during a visit to the St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development in Minnetonka, which received a $270,000 grant to create more classrooms and educational spaces.

Nationally, the childcare sector is in crisis; Minnesota is no exception, facing a shortage of child care providers, high costs for families and a shortage of workers. Minnesota has one of the highest child care costs in the country, which could explain the low birth rate in recent years.

The Legislature last year voted to continue a COVID-era program that increased wages for child care workers, averting a funding gap.

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3. The West Fargo School District hopes to attract and retain more bus drivers by raising wages

Parents pick up their children after a West Fargo School District bus drops them off near an apartment complex in south Fargo at the end of the school day.David Samson / The Forum

Parents pick up their children after a West Fargo School District bus drops them off near an apartment complex in south Fargo at the end of the school day.David Samson / The Forum

The West Fargo School District is working to increase wages for bus drivers and combat the ongoing bus driver shortage that is affecting not only West Fargo, but school districts across the country.

The West Fargo School Board this week approved pay changes and classifications for bus drivers. Base pay for entry-level drivers will increase from approximately $17 per hour to $20.50 per hour, and maximum pay for existing drivers will increase from approximately $24 per hour to $27 per hour.

A recent market survey of public entities in North Dakota found that wages for bus drivers in West Fargo were about 15% below the public market average.

“This is an effort to stop the bleeding and bring us to market value,” district manager Levi Bachmeier said of the wage increases.

Fargo Public Schools contracts with Valley Bus Company for most bus routes. Online job postings suggest that Valley Bus Company wages start between $17 and $20 per hour for positions supervising school-age students in Fargo. Valley Bus Company job postings for bus driver positions in Grand Forks, which has also experienced major driver shortages, offered wages between $18 and $28 per hour.

To increase wages, Bachmeier recommended eliminating six four-hour jobs to reinvest resources in jobs that guarantee more hours. The change also allows CDL drivers of large buses to earn about 15% more.

Bachmeier said the district is “looking at 13 vacancies for school bus drivers,” with about 35 drivers on staff.

“This is an aggressive adjustment that we hope will help us turn the tide,” Bachmeier said.

School districts across the country are facing a shortage of school bus drivers. In June, Brad Redmond, transportation director for West Fargo Schools, told the school board that it had been “a tough few years finding new drivers.” He added that most of the problem has to do with the turnover of drivers leaving or retiring.

Read more from Wendy Reuer of The Forum

4. Basin announces a new gas-fired power plant for North Dakota

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Todd Brickhouse, CEO of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, participates in a roundtable discussion on energy supply during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference at the Bismarck Event Center on May 15, 2024.

Michael Achterling / North Dakota Monitor

From the North Dakota Monitor via Forum News Service

Basin Electric Cooperative plans to build another natural gas-fired power plant in North Dakota, a top company official said Wednesday, May 15.

Todd Brickhouse, CEO of Basin Electric, unveiled the plans during a speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.

Brickhouse said it would be a 1,400-megawatt electric generating facility and would be the utility cooperative’s largest electric generating facility.

“It will be the largest capital project Basin has ever done,” Brickhouse said.

Brickhouse did not specify a location for the facility, but said it would depend on pipeline negotiations.

In an interview, Brickhouse said the power plant should be operational in 2030 or sooner and would have a price tag of billions of dollars.

He said it would consume about 7% of the natural gas currently produced in North Dakota.

Brickhouse called the natural gas plant “an extension of Basin’s historic strategy” of having coal-fired power plants at the mouth of the coal mine.

He said the goal would be to locate the plant close to the source of the natural gas.

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5. Dairyland in Fergus Falls continues the tradition of welcoming summer with area schoolchildren

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Area schoolchildren are flocking to Dairyland in Fergus Falls.

Michael McGurran / WDAY News

With the summer months come lake life, fun vacations, the end of the school year and the return of a Fergus Falls gem.

Whether you’re looking for something cold on a hot day, or something baked golden brown, Dairyland in Fergus Falls has what you’re looking for.

It’s been a full week celebrating a tradition that dates back to the beginnings of Dairyland.

“The local schools come here one class at a time,” owner Pat Connelly said. “So our first class today was from 8 to 9.”

Spread over rounds that lasted all day, crowds of children came by for burgers, fries, cheese curds and ice cream. To the naked eye it may seem chaotic. For seasoned personnel, it’s just another Friday.”

“Yeah, this is kind of normal for us,” said Joseph Connelly, Pat Connelly’s son and an employee at Dairyland. “I just have to stay calm, cool and collected.”

Read more from WDAY’s Michael McGurran