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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

July 23, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Enid News & Eagle. July 21, 2019.

— Allegations against Epic Charter School are deeply troubling

The allegations against Epic Charter School are deeply troubling.

In February, the Tulsa World reported that the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation once again was investigating Epic, a publicly funded charter school managed by a for-profit company.

In June, Oklahoma Watch reported administrators were allowing, encouraging or pressuring the virtual school’s teachers to manipulate’ enrollment to improve bonus pay of employees. The school denied the allegations.

The Frontier then reported that Epic obtained personal information of thousands of Oklahoma public school teachers in an attempt to add hundreds of faculty.

The Oklahoman this month reported that a state investigation alleged the virtual charter school system embezzled millions in state funds by inflating enrollment counts with “ghost students.”

However, Shelly Hickman, assistant superintendent of communications for Epic, referred to the allegations as a “coordinated effort” against a fast-growing school that “makes status quo education lobbying groups uncomfortable.”

On Friday, two Republican leaders — Gov. Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister — called for an investigative audit of Epic. Stitt formally asked State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd to audit the school and “all related entities,” including looking back three years.

“As every public education dollar is precious, it is critical that there be full transparency and accountability for how those dollars are spent. I commend Gov. Stitt In calling for this audit to help shed light on the matter,” Hofmeister said in a released statement.

To date, no charges have been filed. We need to let the process continue through the legal system.

If these allegations prove to be true, that would be unfortunate for our state with its past track record of funding public education.

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The Oklahoman. July 21, 2019.

— Dams have paid big dividends

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the adage says, and it applies perfectly to a government program begun in the 1940s that continues to pay dividends in Oklahoma.

We’re talking about watershed dams, which The Oklahoman’s Chris Casteel wrote about recently. These dams are mostly out of sight but shouldn’t be out of mind to state and federal policymakers who are charged with maintaining them.

Developed by Oklahoma members of Congress, the program resulted in about 12,000 watershed dams being built in 47 states. Oklahoma has 2,107. They are maintained by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

Larry Caldwell, an engineer who worked for the commission and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained the theory behind the dams. The basic idea was “to keep the raindrop as close to where it falls as possible.”

“So instead of having large dams downstream, there will be several small dams in tributaries within the watershed area,” Caldwell said. “And each of those dams will collect the runoff from their drainage areas and slowly release it through a pipe. . It will control and greatly reduce the depth of flooding downstream.”

The dams benefit the state to the tune of nearly $100 million per year, mostly by preventing property damage, Caldwell says. The structures prevented $33 million in damages in May alone.

They have proven especially handy during the past year, when rainfall statewide has been far above normal. However, Caldwell noted that when times are dry they’re also important in helping to ensure a reliable water supply.

Originally intended to protect crops and farmland and help with irrigation, the dams also protect roads, bridges and residences — and lives — at risk due to urban sprawl. Without the dams, many of these structures “would flood on a fairly regular basis,” said Trey Lam, head of the conservation commission.

Preservation of flood-control dams has been a priority for U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, since he got to Washington 25 years ago. He sponsored a bill creating a rehabilitation program — the dams were built to last 50 years — paid for with federal money (65 and states or local governments (35%). In 2014, he helped write a farm bill that included $250 million for dam rehabilitation.

The rehab program had funded 294 dams in 31 states as of the beginning of this year, 53 of them in Oklahoma. The list of dams needing work far exceeds the amount of money available, so officials focus on the structures that save lives.

Caldwell makes a good point in saying these dams will become more important in the years to come. “I think the challenge now is for today’s generation to ensure they’re maintained in safe condition,” he said. Policymakers would do well to take note by keeping this program going strong.

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Tulsa World. July 23, 2019.

— The first step is admitting you have a problem. Tulsa has a problem

Last week, the City Council held its second public forum to address the Equality Indicators reports.

One repeated theme of Wednesday’s session was the lack of trust between Tulsa’s black community and the police department charged with protecting it.

The reports say that Tulsa police officers are twice as likely to use force against a black person as a white person. The police department and Fraternal Order of Police dispute the figure’s relevance, pointing out that force is used against only a tiny portion of people of any race.

We repeat that portion of the discussion not to suggest that one side is wrong and the other right, but to illustrate the distance they stand from each other. They aren’t working from a shared set of facts.

It is said that the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is a problem. Tulsa has a problem: The police department and too many of the law-abiding people in the city’s black community don’t trust one another. As a result, the citizens don’t feel safe from crime or the police and the police don’t have necessary allies in dealing with crime.

The city’s strategy for addressing that problem is community-oriented policing: Immersing officers in the community they serve, building relationships and, ideally, trust. But recent events have shown that the strategy can succeed or make the problem worse, depending on how it is implemented.

The same is true of the public hearings on the Equality Indicators. If it is only an opportunity for the two sides to talk at one another, it advances the ball little. Indeed, it could do more harm than good. If, instead, it is the starting point for better listening, better sharing of common goals and better cooperation toward solutions to common problems, then there is a chance for progress.

Some members of the City Council resisted hearing from the public concerning the Equality Indicators reports, and the forum was eventually shunted into a special meeting.

We think the two meetings that have been held have proven the value of having the discussion. So long as everyone’s listening with an ear toward solutions.

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