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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

July 31, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Enid News & Eagle. July 30, 2018.

— Limits on watering lawns don’t inconvenience anyone

Water is life.

That’s a simple statement, but it’s also a profound one. Without water, there is no life on Earth. So, we need to do all we can to preserve this precious commodity.

For residents of Enid, doing your part means not watering your lawn every day.

The city instituted phase one of its water conservation plan in 2012 during one of our frequent droughts. It was lifted, but then re-introduced in 2015 and then made permanent, as Northwest Oklahoma continued to suffer from drought.

What it means is people with residences or commercial buildings with even-numbered street addresses may only water lawns with sprinklers on even-numbered days, while people with residences or commercial buildings with odd-numbered addresses may water on odd-numbered days. Hand watering is permitted on any day, and those with private water wells are not constrained by the city ordinance.

The city could fine people for violating the plan, but so far is using the approach of teaching people about conservation, as opposed to sending out employees looking for violators and citing them.

With an eye toward residential conservation, Enid isn’t much different than a lot of cities in the state. Conservation also is mandatory in such places as Oklahoma City, Edmond, Norman, Moore, Piedmont, El Reno, Yukon, Mustang, Blanchard and Deer Creek, according to the city.

The city is in the midst of an ambitious project to secure our future water security with the taxpayer-approved plan to build a pipeline to pump water from Kaw Lake to Enid.

Even then, we’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature. Enid will continue to draw water from underground, via the water fields west of the city.

That underground supply, though, has been taxed by the prolonged droughts and increased usage for agricultural purposes.

Water is a precious commodity, and we all should treat it as such.

If that means watering your lawn every other day, then so be it.

It really isn’t that big of an inconvenience.

Let’s all do our part.

___

Tulsa World. July 30, 2018.

— State should be evaluating danger of aging prisoners

A decades-long, tough-on-crime approach to Oklahoma justice has resulted in an aged and aging prison population laden with burdensome health care costs.

Oklahoma reached No. 1 in the U.S. for its incarceration rate this year, after decades being the nation’s top state in the imprisonment of women.

While smart-on-crime justice reforms have gained a toehold in Oklahoma, the practices are taking longer to enact in rural counties.

A recent Daily Oklahoman story details the infirmities experienced by the oldest prisoners and how their needs are being met.

The increase among prisoners 50 and older between 1980 and 2017 have jumped by 6,034 percent — from 85 prisoners to 5,214. The geriatric category includes 350 prisoners older than 71, and 21 inmates who are at least 80.

Prisoners needing wheelchairs number 244, another 400 need walkers, canes or crutches and two inmates are paralyzed. Some have dementia and other serious aging disabilities.

The state pays 157 inmates to act as health care orderlies for other inmates to back up nursing staffs.

Taxpayers pick up the entire health care tab for inmates.

Prisons should be used to house the state’s most dangerous, not to warehouse people because we’re still angry about what they did years ago.

It’s not just about saving money. It’s also about public safety. Space occupied by an aging prisoner can’t be used for a young felon; money spent on an 80-year-old can’t be used to keep a 21-year-old. It’s a matter of priorities. Who do you want to keep locked up?

Starting Nov. 1, prisoners who are older than 60 and have served at least half their sentence can apply for parole. The board ought to look seriously at releasing the inmates who can live safely in our communities.

Health care costs can shift to federal or private programs, and prison overcrowding can be eased.

___

The Oklahoman. July 31, 2018.

— Demand continues for non-accredited teachers in Oklahoma classrooms

In demanding that lawmakers approve pay raises this spring for Oklahoma public school teachers, the head of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers noted that one-fourth of the district’s teachers had left the previous year.

“And that’s a result of low pay,” Ed Allen said. “They’re either leaving the profession or leaving our state to get a better job.”

Yet the latest figures from the state Department of Education regarding emergency certified teachers underscore the fact that better pay, while certainly important, is hardly the lone factor in keeping professional teachers in the classroom.

The state Board of Education approved 853 emergency teaching certificates last week. That’s the most in a single month and brings to 1,238 the total thus far for the 2018-19 school year. Last year, the board approved a record 1,975 emergency certificates.

The certificates are granted to teachers who don’t have a certified state teaching license. They’re allowed to teach for two years. Oklahoma has seen a steady increase in the number of such certificates granted — in 2011-12, only 32 were needed.

In April, the Legislature approved pay raises averaging $6,100 per teacher. That left many education officials optimistic that certified teachers — many of whom, in a comprehensive survey, cited low pay as a significant factor in their leaving — would return to Oklahoma classrooms and thus reduce the need for emergency certifications. This hasn’t happened.

Our sense is that other factors noted in that survey, such as challenges with classroom management, continue to present considerable hurdles that better pay alone can’t overcome.

Just last month, the Tulsa World reported on staff members’ concerns that a lack of support from Tulsa Public Schools administration hurt their ability to teach students and retain talented teachers. Only one-third of teaching staff surveyed said they would recommend that a friend or family member work in the district.

An official with TPS, which perhaps due to the pay raise has seen fewer teachers leave the district this year, downplayed some of the figures in the survey. But some of the frustrations revealed in it are common, particularly in large urban districts.

In Oklahoma City, for example, district teachers have noted that changes in discipline policy have made it more difficult to maintain control of their classrooms.

In an anonymous survey last fall conducted by the AFT, between 75 and 80 percent of those teachers who responded said they had students who either didn’t comply with classroom rules or refused to complete work. Roughly 70 percent said they endured “disruptive outbursts” that hinder learning.

One teacher with nearly 40 years’ experience in the district replied that the 2017-18 school year was the most trying. “Every day I am still working on discipline,” the teacher wrote. “These students are the most defiant, disrespectful and disruptive ones I have ever had.” How much would someone need to earn to make those daily challenges worthwhile?

The raises provided to Oklahoma’s teachers were certainly long overdue. But myriad concerns unrelated to salary must be addressed to reduce the continuing need for non-professional teachers in the classroom.

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