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Willmar schools fire four technology staffers

ALSO: Railroad drops plans to haul coal through Rochester; more than 50 horses, ponies and donkeys removed from Fillmore County farm; and more.

The details are still sketchy, but four technology staffers have been terminated from Willmar School District while a fifth is on paid administrative leave. They have been charged with alleged misconduct and violation of school laws and rules, reports Linda Vanderwerf of the West Central Tribune writes that district employees are mum on the specifics. Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Friday morning that the situation was “nothing that involved students” and the investigation did not reveal any security issues with regard to students. The four are Steven Giroux, network administrator at Willmar Senior High; Jamie Cluka, technology technician based at the Willmar Education and Arts Center; Adam Tucker, technology technician at the Senior High; and Emily Miller, technology technician at Willmar Middle School. Eugene Lubbers, technology technician for WEAC, the Area Learning Center and other alternative programs, is on paid administrative leave “pending the exhaustion of his rights under the Veterans Preference Act,” the district said. Kjergaard said the district will work with Bennett Office Technologies of Willmar and other local companies to ensure continuity of service.

More than 50 horses, ponies and donkeys were removed from a property in southwestern Fillmore County last week. During the course of an investigation into the property, investigating agent Keith Streff of the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office said he discovered numerous animals suffering from untreated wounds and severe emaciation — along with several carcasses on the property, reports Nathan Hansen of the Winona Daily News.  “I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Streff said. “… There was a complete absence of any animal husbandry whatsoever.” Streff described the scene as “devastating and catastrophic.” A dozen horses have been taken to the University of Minnesota Large Animal Hospital in St. Paul for examination, and at least four have been euthanized due to health complications. The remainder was taken to the Fillmore County Fairground. Streff said the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation is working with the Animal Humane Society to place the animals in new homes. No charges have yet been filed, and the investigation of the case is ongoing.

Canadian Pacific has put on hold plans to extend its rail network into the Powder River Basin, ending Rochester’s decades-long fight to stop the increased coal train traffic through town, writes Mike Klein of the Rochester Post-Bulletin. When CP acquired the Dakota Minnesota & Eastern railroad in 2007 for $1.48 billion, it also acquired the option to build a 260-mile extension into coal mines in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. However, the low price and increased availability of natural gas has cut into coal usage. Right now, Canadian Pacific moves about two to four trains every 24 hours through the Rochester area with “mixed freight,” mainly steel and grain. Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown said the announcement is a “good deal” for Rochester, but he cautioned that Canadian Pacific is trying to sell those tracks, and a new buyer could proceed with the Powder River Basin plan.  The coal-line plan alarmed Rochester-area officials because of the likelihood it would bring increased and heavier, faster traffic through the city. The Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester, Olmsted County and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up to form the Rochester Coalition to oppose the increased coal traffic. Mayo officials sought a bypass or serious safety precautions, given the proximity of hundreds of hospital beds and daily surgeries within a few hundred feet of the tracks in the downtown medical campus.

Vandals hit Harry Brown’s Family Automotive over the weekend, leaving 37 vehicles with flat tires and scratched paint, writes Rebecca Rodenborg of the Faribault Daily News. Mike Brown, president of Harry Brown’s Family Automotive in Faribault, said, “I don’t mean to make light of the situation but it’s a fact of life — when you have this many assets sitting out unprotected.” Faribault Police Capt. Neal Pederson said that in all, 37 trucks and cars — everything from a 2013 Sierra Denali Crew Cab to a 2013 Malibu Eco — were damaged. Brown estimated about $40,000 in damage. He believed the needed repairs would be done within the week.

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 The Associated Press reports that conservationists have closed on an $11 million deal to protect nearly 2,000 acres of land along the Mississippi River northeast of Brainerd, as reported in the St. Cloud Daily Times. The project used $11 million of state Legacy Amendment funds to buy the tract from longtime owner Potlatch Corp., which had considered selling the land for development. It includes nearly three miles of riverfront and links with adjacent properties to create a nine-mile stretch of protected shoreline. The Trust calls the land a rare gem. It is home to bald eagles, Blandings turtles and other species of special concern. The property also provides critical habitat for migrating birds and holds a designated trout stream.

Members of United Steelworkers Local 11-63 will have a vote this week on a proposed contract with Cloquet’s Sappi Fine Paper, a week after it authorized a strike if the mill and union could not come to an agreement, reports the Duluth News Tribune. The steelworkers will vote later this week, one week after the union members authorized a strike if the mill and union could not come to an agreement. Sappi employees have been working without a new contract since May. Issues with the proposed contract included elimination of some retiree benefits for younger union members, an increase in the medical insurance deductible and limitations to holiday pay accrued while employees are off work due to accident, illness or military leave, something the union gave up wages and benefits to gain during the 2007 negotiations. The USW represents roughly 400 of about 715 employees at the mill.

An anonymous angel dropped 11 $100 bills into a Salvation Army red kettle at Mill’s Fleet Farm in Waite Park Monday, writes Amy Bowen of the St. Cloud Daily Times. “We do get $100 bills, but 11 rolled up together? We get very excited with two $100 bills, so 11 are a nice treat,” said Major Lee Morrison. The Salvation Army hopes to raise $220,000 from the kettles this year and the campaign is about $14,000 off pace compared to this time last year. Morrison said he hopes the donor comes forward. He said he’d love to offer a tour of the Salvation Army and even a meal.

A fancy-pants Eastern pollster groups has named Duluth-Superior one of America’s best small metropolitan areas for college students, according to the American Institute for Economic Research. The Duluth News Tribune reports that the American Institute for Economic Research ranked the Duluth-Superior area 14th in the Small Metro category in its 2012 College Destinations Index. This is the first year Duluth made the top ranks. The index includes the top 75 towns and cities in the United States for college students out of the 227 metro areas with student populations of 15,000 or more. To create the index, the institute evaluates data from a number of sources, including the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, to rank a community’s academic and cultural environment, quality of life and employment opportunities. The Duluth metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of St. Louis, Douglas and Carlton counties, was the only Minnesota location that made the top rankings for areas with populations between 250,000 and 1 million. Topping the list was Ann Arbor, Mich., in first and Madison, Wis., in second. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington was ranked sixth among major metropolitan areas (those with populations more than 2.5 million). The Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn., MSA was ranked 12th among college towns with fewer than 250,000 residents. The Grand Forks, N.D.-East Grand Forks, Minn., MSA was ranked 17th.