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Fergus Falls residents warily eye contretemps between teachers and district

ALSO: Two Fosston teens severely burned; corn growers seek property-tax relief; Bois Forte member returns as a doctor; ZZ Top bringing tour to Bemidji; and more.

For about one year, Fergus Falls teachers have been working without a new contract and while negotiations have been on-going, they’ve been slow. Helmut Schmidt of the Fergus Falls Daily Journal notes that locals are wary and weary of the negotiations. “I think there’s just a feeling out there that they want to get this thing settled,” said City Council member Ben Schierer. “They want to see the two sides sitting in the same room and figuring this thing out. They haven’t been in the same room, as I understand, for a long time.” Originally, the school district offered teachers a two-year salary increase of 0.1 percent while teachers asked for an 11 percent increase. The district’s most recent offer, a 6.4 percent increase in salaries and benefits, was overwhelmingly rejected by the teacher’s union. The next meeting is scheduled for March 29. 

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby is having an interesting debate on whether it should remain a public hospital or shift to becoming a nonprofit organization. Renee Richardson of the Brainerd Dispatch writes that the center’s board of directors is conducting public meetings to gather thoughts from the people served by the hospital. Some criticism is focused on the timing of the decision – the board of directors will likely make a decision after the final public information meeting on April 20. Gordy Forbort, former CRMC chief financial officer, asked why the decision couldn’t go to voters in a public referendum or in the November elections. Others asked why the public meetings will end in April before summer residents return from the south.

Eighteen-year-old Savannah Munter and 16-year-old Allen Halland of Fosston were burned over more than 50 percent of their bodies as they were adding fuel to a bonfire Saturday when the gas can they were using exploded. The Forum News Service writes that Halland’s stepbrother, AJ, who is Munter’s boyfriend, played a big role in saving them. “I know AJ had a huge part in saving these two kids’ lives,” said Robin Anderson, Halland’s cousin. “I don’t know exactly the details, but from what I’ve heard he helped put out the fire on both of them, so he’s actually a hero to both kids.” GoFundMe pages have been started for both teens. 

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams hopes the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commits to paying for a bridge across Albert Lea Lake to connect the paved Blazing Star Trail from Albert Lea to Hayward and, ultimately, to Austin. Sam Wilmes of the Austin Daily Herald writes that the project will cost $1.25 million and the DNR has about $450,000 set aside for the project. The DNR applied for complete funding last year, but did not make the funding list. Adams said connecting the trail is a quality-of-life issue that will provide economic development by attracting families and cyclists to the trail and parks. The trail ultimately will extend to Austin to connect with the Shooting Star Trail and Root River Trail.

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When corn growers went to the Legislature to lobby on their most important issues, the top issue was cutting property taxes. The Albert Lea Tribune notes that 22 growers from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association spent March 15 at the Capitol. “Our top priority this session is property tax relief,” said MCGA president Noah Hultgren, a farmer from Raymond. “It’s important that we keep reminding legislators how essential tax relief is to both the farm and overall rural economy.”

Shanna Landgren is the first Bois Forte member to return to the reservation as a medical doctor. John Lundy of the Duluth News Tribune writes that two years after finishing her residency, Landgren, 31, is now one of six medical providers at the two Bois Forte clinics in Nett Lake and Vermilion. “It always has been a goal of ours at Bois Forte through many years and many councils … hiring professional Bois Forte band members such as doctors and lawyers,” said Kevin Leecy, the band’s chairman since 2004. The Bois Forte clinics are purposefully located close to youth facilities, Leecy said. “She’ll be available at points to talk to the children … just talk to them maybe about their dreams and goals so they can see a real live Bois Forte doctor,” Leecy said. Landgren embraces the role. “This is an area where I can give back, and I want to. I want to see our up-and-coming generation succeed. I want them to know whatever barriers they think might be there are surpassable. And there are actually a lot of opportunities available if they’re interested.”

A 61-year-old St. Joseph woman was walking her dog Monday in St. Joseph Township when she passed a home with multiple dogs contained in a fenced backyard. The St. Cloud Daily Times reports that two boxers jumped over the fence and attacked and killed the woman’s dog. When the woman tried to retrieve her dog, she was attacked by the boxers as well, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office notes. She suffered multiple cuts and puncture wounds. The dogs have been seized and quarantined.

Mary Jane Wagenson quietly made history earlier this month when she became the first woman to officiate a Minnesota boy’s state basketball tournament game. The Rochester Post-Bulletin published a Q&A with Wagenson, 54, who teaches at Rochester Community and Technical College and has been a Minnesota State High School League referee since 1987. In one season, she said works about 30 high school games and 30 women’s college games in both Division II and Division III. When she started officiating in 1987 and 1988, she would sometimes have to change in janitorial closets and public restrooms. Back then, most coaches were nice but “sometimes the fans got a little rabid.” Being the first female official to work a game at the boy’s state tournament “was a thrill, but on the other hand, it was a game,” she said.” Really, any time you’re asked to work a state tournament game of any kind, it’s an honor.”

Venerable classic rockers ZZ Top will bring its Hell Raisers tour to Bemidji on March 28. The Bemidji Pioneer notes that singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist/singer Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard (he’s the one without a beard) continue to tour 46 years after they formed the band, drawing material from their 15 studio albums. ZZ Top has sold more than 25 million records and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tim Montana & the Shrednecks will open for the band.