HAM LAKE, Minn. - School officials in Ham Lake hope this morning's trip to middle school goes better than yesterday.

Seems a sleepy driver lost control of his car, hit a ditch and nearly vaulted over a school bus before crashing into another ditch. Three students from Roosevelt Middle School were onboard but none were injured. The front end of the bus was damaged. The 23-year old driver of the car was shaken up but not severely injured.

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Republicans in the state Senate will gather in St. Paul next week to choose a new majority leader. The GOP caucus meet next Tuesday -- their first meeting since Amy Koch resigned her leadership post last week. Koch stepped down after several of her colleagues confronted her about a relationship with a male Senate staffer. Several senators have said they're considering a candidacy for Majority Leader, but thus far only Sen. Mike Jungbauer has declared.

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Forty airmen from the St. Paul-based 133rd Airlift Wing return to Minnesota this morning (9:30am) after a six-month deployment to Kuwait where they served in support of Operation New Dawn. In 2011, the 133rd Airlift Wing deployed 528 airmen to 17 countries in support of U.S. operations worldwide. Many of these men and women are serving on their second, third or even more deployments.

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The DNR is advising Minnesotans that the statewide drought is making peat fires even more difficult to put out. Officials say peat can smolder beneath the ground for long periods and give off harmful smoke to both people and livestock. The DNR's Tom Romaine says residents should not burn brush or grass on soil containing peat. He says they can check with local agiculture officials to determine if peat is in the ground. Peat is an accumulation of partially-decayed plant material.

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First responders and haz-mat teams begin cleanup today of a toxic chemical spill discovered behind a 92-year-old Minneapolis company facing bankruptcy. The city was notified after a woman reported frozen chromium near the train tracks behind the Superior Plating Company. Company representatives say they think the spill is coming from contaminated soil under the building but they don't know how they're going to pay for it. Fire officials say the chemical isn't an immediate hazard because it is frozen.

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'Tis the season of giving -- and if you are planning an extra special gift this holiday season, you may have to file a gift tax return in 2011 if it exceeds 13-thousand dollars. That total is for either cash or property. Carrie Resch with the IRS adds that all charitable donations must be made to qualified charities no later then December 31st to be deductible for 2011.

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Snow has been scarce so far this winter but that hasn't stopped Minnesota ski areas from opening their runs. All the major areas are open, some of them 100-percent, thanks to snowmaking equipment which has provided bases as deep as four-feet on trails at Taylors Falls and in western Wisconsin. North Shore and metro area ski areas are also reporting thick bases and decent conditions despite a lack of naturally-made snow.

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Congressman Keith Ellison (DFL-Minneapolis) is blasting House Republicans for rejecting the bi-partisan bill that would have extended the payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits. The Minnesota Democrat notes that the vast majority of Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted for the two-month compromise. Ellison accuses Tea Party House Republicans of smashing the deal a few hours after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called the Senate bill "a good deal." In an op-ed piece at The Nation.com, the online site for the The Nation magazine Ellison says the Tea Partiers are risking the livelihood of 160-million Americans who depend on payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

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An outpouring of donations and cash are coming in to the north Minneapolis food shelf that had a load of food stolen. Some Minnesota-based grocery stores are replacing the 1,500 pounds of food and donating a couple hundred hams to the Camden Promise Good Shelf. A monetary donation from Hunger Solutions Minnesota pushed the total to two-thousand pounds of food. A church volunteer is accused of stealing the food intended for 200 families this holiday season. Donations can be made at The-Camden-Promise-dot-Org.

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More than 100 Andover High School students are spending the night outside tonight (Wed) to raise money and awareness of homelessness in Minnesota. This is the third annual "Homeless for a Night" event. Teacher Mike O'Neil says they are going to sleep in improvised shelters like cardboard boxes and under tarps in their sleeping bags. The students are asked to bring at least ten dollars each - and canned goods or hygiene products. Donated food items will go to the school's food shelf and the money raised will be used for homeless programs.

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Officials with 25 schools in southwestern Minnesota are getting applications ready for another Flexible Learning Year. The three-year application for a four-day school week is a collaborative effort to improve student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Luverne Superintendent Gary Fisher says while test scores did not improve as much as they'd hoped, they're going to further develop how they deliver information to kids in the next few years. Schools in the Flexible Learning Year start the academic year in late August rather than after Labor Day.