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MINNESOTA NEWS BRIEFS: School starts today in several districts

Today is the first day of class for students in about two dozen school districts in south-central and southwestern Minnesota.

The coalition has been starting school early for several years in an effort to improve student performance and test scores. The list includes Comfrey, Mountain Lake, Redwood Area, Sleepy Eye and Springfield. Minnesota law requires school to start after Labor Day, but the districts received special waivers from the state. Minneapolis Public Schools also got special permission to start classes next week.


Air conditioners have had a bit of a break, with temperatures in the 70s for the past several weeks, but now the mercury is climbing back to a more summery level. Dave Gruenes, district manager for Stearns Electric, and says demand for electricity rises between 15 and 18 percent when it heats up. He says homeowners can save some money by setting the AC between 76-to-78-degrees, plus shutting off fans when you walk away from them. Gruenes also suggests keeping shades closed, running appliances after the sun goes down, and consider grilling instead of using the stove or oven. 


The man accused of killing a Saint Paul man and a dozen others has taken the unusual step of sending a letter outlining his motives to a Texas newspaper. In the hand-written letter to the Killeen Daily Herald, Major Nidal Hassan says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are illegal and his actions defended others as well as Islam. The admitted Fort Hood shooter killed Army Specialist Kham Xiong of Saint Paul and 12 others and wounded 30 in a rampage on the military base in 2009. His court martial for the worst mass killing on a military post in U.S. history continues this week.


Charges could be filed soon against four suspects in the armed robbery of the Figtree Home Decor Store in Cloquet. Police say two men entered the business Friday night and demanded cash - and one of them displayed a small automatic handgun. The clerk handed over an undetermined amount of money and the suspects fled on foot before getting into a vehicle. Officers arrested the two males and two females Saturday. The investigation continues.


Crews continue unexpected repair work on a heavily-used bridge in the south metro. Over the weekend, painters discovered cracks on the Highway 13 bridge, which crosses I-35W in Burnsville. MnDOT's Kevin Gutknecht says it appears something, possibly a trailer load, collided with the bridge. Gutknecht says the damage is *not* to the point where the bridge is unsafe, however. For now, the ramp from southbound I-35W to Highway 13 is closed, as is one lane of traffic on the bridge. Gutknecht says the bridge is on a two-year inspection cycle and was last inspected in June 2012.