- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Sept. 2

Indiana school testing settlement no model for Oklahoma

Oklahoma and Indiana each experienced major school-testing disruptions in 2013 due to the failures of the testing vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill. In the following months, critics alleged Oklahoma officials were insufficiently aggressive when seeking damages. Those critics often cited the actions of Indiana officials as a model.

You don’t hear critics making that claim now.

In 2013, Indiana politicians made their share of headlines. CTB/McGraw-Hill President Ellen Haley testified before Indiana lawmakers. Indiana officials said they would seek financial compensation of at least $614,000, and indicated the actual total would be in the millions.

In contrast, Oklahoma officials took a lower-key approach, ultimately negotiating a $1.2 million settlement. That agreement included a $367,205 cash payment and around $860,000 in donated services.

The Oklahoma settlement was announced in July 2013. In Indiana, no agreement was unveiled until this August, when Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, announced a $3.3 million settlement.

There’s less to that larger total than meets the eye. For one thing, the number of students affected in Indiana was many times greater than in Oklahoma. But more importantly, the Indiana settlement includes no cash payment. The entire penalty consists of credits and in-kind services.

So after the legislative show trials and chest-thumping, Indiana officials have little to show for their bluster. Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.org, was certainly less than impressed. In a column, he noted Ritz’s agreement means Indiana “won’t see any cash for its trouble.” He suggested the agreement may not pass legal muster.

Ritz signed the agreement last October without notifying the state board of education; she doesn’t appear to have authority to act unilaterally. Hakim-Shabazz said Ritz “legally cannot enter into any settlement unless the attorney general signs off on it and that office hasn’t because it’s still under review. So she announced a settlement that legally does not exist …”

Those aren’t the only problems. As in Oklahoma, Indiana experienced a second round of testing problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill in 2014, although Indiana’s glitches occurred during practice testing. In Oklahoma, the second disruption resulted in termination of CTB/McGraw-Hill’s contract. In Indiana, the vendor is still expected to have a state testing contract in 2015.

So Indiana’s response is a model only if you think CTB/McGraw-Hill should pay no direct monetary penalty and that multiple, major testing failures should not result in the loss of a state contract. Given the outcome, it won’t be surprising if Indiana officials look at Oklahoma’s cash settlement and start touting this state as a model.

Of course, most who criticized the Oklahoma settlement were interested in partisan politics, not getting a good deal. Other states - using different testing vendors - faced similar online testing problems in 2013 and 2014, including Kentucky, Minnesota, Florida and Kansas. Yet critics acted as though Oklahoma was somehow unique and that the state Education Department was solely to blame. That was always nonsense. Indiana’s settlement demonstrates how out of touch those critics were.

Critics insisted that Oklahoma would have been better off with someone like Glenda Ritz in charge of state testing oversight. But the Indiana settlement demonstrates that having a Glenda Ritz-style state superintendent in Oklahoma would neither benefit state taxpayers nor improve students’ testing experience. It would only boost CTB/McGraw-Hill’s bottom line.


The Journal Record, Aug. 29, 2014

Details in the dark

An autopsy report released this week revealed that Clayton Lockett’s cause of death was judicial execution by lethal injection. It’s missing a few things.

The autopsy, requested by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, was performed by the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences at Dallas. The report did not explain why Lockett writhed and moaned on the gurney. It did not explain why prison officials drew a shade to block witnesses’ view of what was happening in the execution chamber. It did not explain why prison officials claimed Lockett died of a heart attack after the execution was halted. And it did not explain why the Department of Corrections falsely claimed the prisoner’s vein blew out and collapsed when the medical evidence says otherwise.

It’s missing a few more things. The report doesn’t explain why the state refuses to reveal details about the drugs used to kill the condemned. It doesn’t explain why the state won’t discuss the qualifications of the medical personnel carrying out or supervising the execution.

The report does not explain why Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell swore that she and the physician in attendance would “monitor the inmates to be satisfied the inmates are sufficiently unconscious before the final two drugs are administered.”

Most importantly, the report does not explain why Attorney General Scott Pruitt was in such a hurry to kill Lockett and Charles Warner, who was scheduled to die the same night but had his execution postponed after the Lockett debacle. On the day of the execution, with the untested drug combination still a contentious public topic, Pruitt issued a flurry of press releases reassuring Oklahomans that the drugs would work as intended and that proceeding swiftly would be justice served, true to the people’s wishes. And in the way of politicians, much credit was taken for being the state’s faithful guardian of justice.

We do not expect an autopsy report to explain those things, but we do expect the attorney general to find the courage to be as visible in his apology as he was in his assurances about the execution. We would admire a public figure who would stand and say, “I was wrong. This must not happen again.”

Unfortunately, the pro-death bluster stopped about the time the window shade was drawn in the execution chamber. And we’ve heard nothing at all from those responsible since.


Stillwater NewsPress, Aug. 29, 2014

TIF districts grow economy

The city of Stillwater likely will pursue the creation of more tax increment financing districts to encourage developers to create more shopping areas in Stillwater.

The Stillwater City Council passed an ordinance earlier this week to create a TIF district on 11.5 acres on the northeast corner of Lakeview and Perkins.

The North Perkins Project Plan will rebate up to $3.4 million in sales tax generated by the proposed shopping center developer RealtyLink, LLC to offset infrastructure construction costs. The new shopping center will include an Academy Sports + Outdoors and other restaurants and retailers. The rebate will be paid from 1 cent of the 3.5 cent city sales tax collected by retailers operating there. As an incentive, the city will reduce the sales tax it collects from the stores in the shopping center for up to 10 years.

One of the reasons for creating the TIF district is to capture more sales tax revenue from local shoppers who are spending money outside of Stillwater for items unavailable here. Many believe the incentive is intended to nourish and support development.

The initiative has been met with consternation in some quarters. Opponents of the TIF district plan say awarding incentives to new businesses is not fair to existing businesses. They say that the TIF district discriminates against existing establishments that have paid millions in sales tax over the years. City Councilor Gina Noble, who voted against the measure, said businesses desiring to set up shop in Stillwater should not have an expectation of incentives.

Whether you are for or against tax increment financing districts, the initiative is moving forward. Thousands of TIF districts are currently operating across the United States as cities seek ways to grow economically.

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