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Recent Kansas Editorials

October 31, 2017

The Wichita Eagle, Oct. 27

Go slow, be thorough in studying Tyson Foods plans for county

No community issue is truly a community issue these days without a Twitter hashtag.

Welcome to town, #NoTysonSedgwickCounty.

In the week since the revelation that Sedgwick County is one of three candidates for the Tyson Foods poultry processing plant that Tonganoxie punted, we’ve seen the gamut of opinions on locating a plant here.

And somewhere in the wide middle, where most of us live, there are many Sedgwick County residents who have feelings in both camps. New jobs would be great, but will there be a smell? We deserve a boost to the local economy, as long as my water is clean.

City and county leaders noticed the opposition. Any joy over becoming a candidate for a $320-million complex that will create 1,600 jobs quickly became tempered by aggressive public concern against the project.

The Greater Wichita Partnership was quick to emphasize it’s in the information-gathering stage, committing to public listening sessions. An opinion piece from Sedgwick County Commission chairman Dave Unruh echoes that baby-steps approach.

That won’t keep opposition from forming. A public meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Linwood Park Recreation Center, hosted by No Tyson Sedgwick County, will feature speakers talking about environmental and health concerns associated with a new poultry plant.

Opposition and outrage aren’t new to this project - see how quickly residents of Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County turned the tide against building the plant in their area. But a step back to look at all sides of a possible deal is warranted.

City and county leaders wouldn’t be good stewards if they summarily dismissed an opportunity to bring a large corporation and 1,600 new jobs to the area. Not every business looking to expand is as exciting as Amazon, and not all projects promise high-paying jobs.

Tyson’s proposal is enticing - hundreds of millions in new development and new jobs for the community or for workers bringing their families to the community. Those kinds of numbers for a widget factory would be a no-brainer.

But widgets aren’t fed, don’t poop and aren’t slaughtered.

Environmental concerns at a chicken processing plant are real. Tyson paid almost $4 million in fines over Clean Air Act violations four years ago. Jonathan Shorman’s on-the-ground story from a Tyson plant in Monett, Mo., reveals the company paid $2 million in a plea agreement after improper cleanup of a food supplement leak in 2014 led to 108,000 fish being killed in a creek.

Greater Wichita Partnership and others studying Tyson’s record should keep clean water at the top of the list. No large project and no promise of jobs are big enough to pollute the water we drink.

Then there’s the smell, though many in Monett say it’s not a big deal. The number of chicken-raising farms - maybe as many as 75 in the area - would create odors that rival today’s south Wichita’s sewage-treatment center and north Wichita’s meat-packing plants of the past.

But we learned to live with those. A possible odor over parts of the county shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

This is a delicate dance for city and county leaders. Of all the projects facing the community - Century II, Naftzger Park, a new baseball stadium - this is one that deals with the health of residents yet presumably has to be championed to be selected over the other two Kansas finalists.

Long, thoughtful contemplation of what a Tyson plant can mean to Sedgwick County - all the pros, all the cons - is the only reasonable next step.

_____

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Oct. 28

Race is a reliable predictor of academic success or failure in Kansas

ACT Inc. has “readiness benchmarks” that indicate whether students will perform well in particular subjects at the postsecondary level. (Facebook)

To witness how pervasive racial inequality is in Kansas, all you have to do is look at the state’s ACT profile every year - particularly how many students in each racial group are emerging from our public education system prepared (or unprepared) for college.

ACT Inc. has “readiness benchmarks” that indicate whether students will perform well in particular subjects at the postsecondary level. For example, if they receive a 22 or higher on the mathematics portion of the test, there’s a 75 percent chance that they’ll earn a “C″ or better in a first-year college math course.

Only 15 percent of black students in the class of 2017 reached the math benchmark in Kansas - a proportion that surges to 53 percent for white students. On English, this differential is 35 percent to 76 percent. On reading, it’s 22 percent to 61 percent; on science, 12 percent to 47 percent. White students are almost six times more likely to reach the benchmarks in all four subjects - something only 6 percent of black students did in the most recent testing period. Disparities exist between white students and other races as well - 14 percent of Hispanic students and 12 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students met or surpassed all four benchmarks, while the proportion was 35 percent among white students.

Remember what these benchmarks are designed to do: determine who will succeed in college. After reading our ACT profile, it’s no surprise that 36 percent of whites over the age of 25 have four-year degrees - a proportion that falls to 23 percent for blacks and 15 percent for Hispanics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for college graduates is almost two times lower than it is for Americans who only have a high school diploma. Meanwhile, the median salary for graduates is more than $60,000 per year and just under $36,000 for those who didn’t attend a four-year institution.

This is how inequality persists in our society. Opportunities are denied to members of minority groups early in their lives, and this affects everything else - the type of work they do, the amount of money they earn, their access to everything from health care to food, and perhaps most crucially, the resources they can offer their children.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation just released its most recent “Race for Results” report, and its findings reinforce these points. For example, 77 percent of Kansas children live in low-poverty areas - a proportion that collapses to 53 percent for Hispanic children and 51 percent for black children. When children grow up in poverty, they don’t have access to the same educational resources (such as private tutors, test prep guides and broadband) as their more affluent peers. They sometimes attend school on an empty stomach, which severely inhibits their ability to learn. They don’t always receive health care when they need it. Their families often can’t provide financial support for their college ambitions.

From the enduring legacy of slavery to the vast denial of civil rights to discriminatory housing practices that led to de facto segregation in the mid-20th century, there are historical and structural reasons why such massive disparities exist in our country. We have a responsibility to acknowledge and understand them.

As long as skin color remains a reliable predictor of academic success or failure, we’ll know we’ve failed our students.

_____

The Lawrence Journal-World, Oct. 30

A greater police presence downtown is a good step, but that alone will not adequately address the problem.

Police are right to increase their presence in downtown Lawrence following a shooting early in the morning of Oct. 1 that killed three people and injured two others on Massachusetts Street.

But increasing the number of officers is a short-term answer. Long-term solutions to public safety downtown will require joint efforts among police, the Lawrence City Commission and community members.

The police department does not have permanently designated downtown officers. In order to increase patrols downtown, “the only options are to bring someone in on overtime, or pull from other parts of town,” Officer Drew Fennelly said.

At present, Lawrence is divided into four patrol zones, with three to five officers assigned to patrol each zone. Downtown lies in the northeast quadrant, or D Quad, which covers roughly everything north of 13th Street between Michigan and Connecticut streets as well as all of North Lawrence.

In addition to the challenge of finding and funding additional police resources for downtown patrols, research has shown that, in general, adding police patrols doesn’t reduce crime, though targeted police presence in specific areas can help. Fennelly said on nights when staffing is higher, officers may be assigned to foot or bike patrol, and because of the shooting, police have increased foot patrols downtown as staffing allows, especially around the time that bars close. New Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns said he is a proponent of foot patrols but only insofar as resources allow.

“Between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m., it is not uncommon to see officers from the northwest quadrant or the southeast quadrant in the downtown area,” Fennelly said. “This has always been the case.”

The Oct. 1 homicides occurred early on a Sunday morning, around 1:40 a.m. as bars were closing. Underscoring the notion that police presence is no guarantee of deterrence, the shootings occurred near the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets, less than a block away from the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. In fact, officers on foot patrol in the area heard the shots fired and responded immediately.

Lawrence police are rightfully doing what they can to be responsive in the wake of the triple homicide. But it’s important to remember that the number of officers available to patrol 12 blocks of Massachusetts Street is only a small component of public safety, both downtown and in the larger community. A long-term solution will require a larger community discussion not only about police tactics but also about priorities, funding and resources.

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