- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015
APNewsBreak: Big raise for Met leader despite salaries deal

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Even after lawmakers stopped hefty raises for members of Gov. Mark Dayton’s cabinet, the chairman of the Metropolitan Council’s salary still doubled to nearly $123,000, according to state salary documents obtained by the Associated Press.

New chairman Adam Duininck is making twice as much as previous leaders at the Metropolitan Council as the position moves to a full-time role. Dayton’s administration argues he’s on firm legal ground to unilaterally pay Duininck more with the switch to full time, which they say is necessary given the Met Council’s increasing workload.

But Republicans say the governor reneged on a deal that reversed those salary increases earlier this year. Duininck’s five-figure raise could open a second act in the debate over commissioner pay that consumed the Legislature for weeks and it may give the GOP extra fodder to take on the regional planning agency.

“We were going to wind back the clock and say ‘You are going to have to go back to what it was in 2014,’” said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth. “He has gone beyond the intent of what it was.”

In January, Dayton gave double-digit percentage raises, including some topping $30,000, to his commissioners, triggering a blowup that strained relations between the Democratic governor and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk after Bakk moved to freeze the increases.


State school measurement system wins federal re-approval

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota will continue rating its schools based on how well they address disparities and prepare students for college or careers.

The state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act was renewed Tuesday. Minnesota is one of many allowed to deviate from the law. The waiver lets the state measure schools on student proficiency, growth, graduation rates and whether they narrow racial and economic achievement gaps.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius says the waiver has helped the state support struggling schools while highlighting high-performing ones. Minnesota’s waiver was renewed through the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

More than 40 other states have such waivers. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called on Congress to change the law to give schools more funding and other resources.


US Steel to idle part of Minntac; 680 layoffs expected

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - U.S. Steel Corp. said Tuesday it plans to idle part of its Minntac plant at Minnesota’s biggest iron mine, resulting in about 680 layoffs.

It’s the latest symptom of a downturn in the American steel industry that has taken a heavy toll on the Iron Range of northeastern Minnesota. U.S. Steel cited high steel imports, dumping of foreign steel and low steel prices in its announcement.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Courtney Boone said the layoffs are temporary at the Mountain Iron facility, which employs about 1,500 workers, but that the company can’t speculate how long they’ll last. She said that will depend on market conditions and customer demand. Three of the plant’s five iron ore processing lines will be shut down, she said.

“This is not a permanent adjustment,” Boone said.

About three weeks ago, Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel said it would idle its Keetac plant in nearby Keewatin effective May 13, resulting in 412 workers laid off. And Magnetation LLC announced in February that it was shutting down its Keewatin plant, resulting in about 20 job losses. The mining region is about 200 miles north of Minneapolis.


Minnesota professor accused of smuggling elephant ivory

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A St. Cloud State University philosophy professor was arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory out of the United States and into China.

Yiwei Zheng, who appeared in U.S. District Court Tuesday, faces a federal indictment accusing him of conspiracy, smuggling and making a false statement to agents. Zheng also is charged with violating the federal Lacey Act, which bans trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold.

Zheng, who has taught at St. Cloud State since 1999, was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents in St. Cloud, the Star Tribune reported. Zheng appeared in court, surrendered his passport and was released on $25,000 unsecured bond, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.

An email sent to Zheng’s defense attorney for comment was not immediately returned Tuesday. A university spokesman said he can’t comment due to the investigation.

The indictment alleges Zheng conspired with two unnamed co-conspirators in a scheme that ran from 2006 through 2011. The two co-conspirators are not named as defendants.

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