- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

July 29

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on how best to spend BP settlement money:

It’s hot as can be outside, but it’s Christmas in July for elected officials who have BP settlement money to spend.

In Jefferson Parish, it appears part of the money may go to pay raises for parish employees, a nice thing if you are running for office this year.

The Parish Council is falling all over itself to support 5 percent pay raises to almost all Jefferson government employees, although not council members, retroactive to the beginning of this year. One council member, Ben Zahn, suggested the parish could use some of its $45 million in BP money to fund the pay boosts.

This is an election year, and government employees vote reliably. But parish taxpayers - and there are more of them - are less likely to be impressed, for the raises and the prospect of paying for them with oil spill money are both bad public policy.

To begin with, Jefferson voters are about to elect a new parish president and council. So the raise issue should be theirs to decide next year.

Moreover, a more sensible plan is to tilt the raises toward jobs that are harder to fill rather than spread the money evenly around.

Finally, the parish and its leaders need to dream bigger when it comes to spending the BP funds.

The BP settlement includes payments to parish governments and cities, intended as compensation for the costs and economic dislocations caused by the spill. Chip Kline, head of the state’s coastal restoration agency, said those particular funds are for local governments to spend. But he also stressed to the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the many projects in the 2012 coastal master plan will need money from all sorts of sources, beyond the sums from the BP settlements.

The purists would doubtless hope that the BP money be spent entirely for coastal restoration and protection. We hope that across the state, including places like Baton Rouge far removed from direct impact of the oil spill, the money is spent for conservation purposes. But that will require pressure from the public, we suspect, to keep officials focused on the one-time nature of this windfall.

In Jefferson in particular, the School Board voted for a one-time bonus for teachers and support workers, using only part of its BP haul. That’s not ideal either, but obviously it’s a more responsible use of the cash than a permanent raise that would cost money year after year.

But it’s still a sign that this cash is going to burn holes in the pockets of elected bodies across Louisiana.




July 27

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on rising college admission test scores in Louisiana:

Louisiana has reason to boast again. Turns out our high school students are more college-ready, with ACT scores improving for a second year.

On average, students in the Bayou State scored a 19.4 on the college-entrance exam. Last year’s average was 19.1. The highest score that can be achieved on the ACT is 36.

Here’s how our Southwest Louisiana schools fared:

Allen students averaged 19.3 on their exams.

Beauregard students averaged 20.3.

Calcasieu students averaged 19.7.

Cameron students averaged 20.4.

Jeff Davis students averaged 19.2

Vernon students averaged 20.4.

State Education Superintendent John White said the steady progress our students are making on the ACT “reflects the extraordinary teaching and learning that has gone on in our schools.”

The ACT and the SAT are the two primary tests that colleges use to determine eligibility for admissions and scholarships. Though it is administered in all 50 states, the ACT test is taken by a majority of students in 27 states.

All Louisiana public school students are required to take the ACT before graduation. A score of 20 must be met for students to be eligible for TOPS scholarships to in-state four-year schools. A score of 17 or higher ensures two free years of community college through the program.

During the 2014-15 school year, 39,752 seniors within the state took the ACT. Of those, nearly two-thirds scored an 18 or above and about 45 percent scored a 20 or better.

Historically, Louisiana students have trailed behind the national ACT average. Last year, that number was 21; this year’s national average has not yet been released.

“I think you’re going to see our state really rising up and competing with (other) states,” White said.

We hope he’s right.

Our state needs to continue to do more to provide our next generation with the knowledge and skills that are necessary to thrive in today’s workplace.

Students, parents, teachers and school administrators must embrace that competitive challenge so that Louisiana can continue to move up the ACT score ladder.




July 28

Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, on tardy notices for boil water warnings:

When an outage at the Sewerage & Water Board’s Carrollton power plant caused water pressure to drop below safe levels in November 2010, the agency waited three hours to let New Orleanians know they should boil water before using it. After another power outage two years later, it took four hours for the SW&B; to notify the public that their tap water could be contaminated.

The warning that day came long after residents had made coffee, brushed their teeth and filled water bowls for pets. Agency officials offered empty excuses and promised to do better in the future.

But they haven’t done better. In fact, they’ve gotten worse.

S&WB; officials waited seven hours Friday (July 24) after a power outage at the Carrollton plant to announce a boil water advisory for the city’s east bank. The power went out for about 20 minutes at 3 a.m., but the advisory wasn’t issued until 10 a.m.

The SW&B; was even slower to announce a boil water advisory for English Turn and Lower Coast Algiers in June. That one came almost a full day after a water main broke at the Algiers Lock.

Fortunately, there were no contaminants found during follow up testing in either case. But that doesn’t excuse the slow notice to residents.

The whole point of a boil water advisory is to keep people from putting themselves at risk. If you don’t tell them right away that there is a potential problem, you’ve failed at protecting them.

Once again, the S&WB; is promising to get information out faster in the future.

“I hope it’s not ever going to happen again, but if it happens this weekend, I would say to you we’ll all know within 10 to 15 minutes and we will … at least begin to tell you we may be going in this direction or not,” S&WB; Executive Director Cedric Grant said Monday (July 27).

That should have always been the approach.

Residents have been through this drill frequently enough in the past five years to understand the process. If they are told the water pressure dropped below acceptable levels, they can decide whether to take precautions before an official advisory is issued.

Many people already have a supply of bottled water and hand sanitizer to use if need be.

Grant said the S&WB; will make more information available on its website if there is another power outage or other break in the system. But that won’t necessarily reach people quickly. Media outlets and the city’s NOLA Ready system are better options.

The long-term solution, of course, is to revamp the 112-year-old Carrollton power plant. The plant for decades was highly reliable, but it was damaged when the levees failed and flooded the city during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The S&WB; is halfway through $150 million in improvements to the power plant, which Mr. Grant said should prevent or lessen the impact of future outages. Within the next year, monitoring devices will be installed on pumping stations. In addition, two large water towers will be added at the Carrollton location that could put millions of gallons of water into the system to maintain pressure during emergencies.

The plant has lost power or had breakdowns a half dozen times since Katrina, leading to a series of boil-water advisories for the entire east bank. There also have been breaks in water mains like the one in June that caused advisories for smaller areas.

The S&WB; should have long ago worked out a way to quickly assess those situations and let the public know what’s going on. That didn’t happen. It’s up to Mr. Grant to make sure it gets done now.



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