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Oklahoma Watch

Josh Gwartney, principal of the early childhood center at Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools, displays the paddle available to be used on students.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

More than a dozen names are inked onto the wooden paddle tucked behind Principal Josh Gwartney’s desk.

Each name memorializes a child who was given a swatting in Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools, located about 25 miles east of Tulsa.

Gwartney, who leads the early childhood center, said the paddle is rarely used on the center’s pre-kindergarten through second-grade students, and only with their parents’ permission. Paddling also is used in the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.

James Alexander, who suffers from bipolar II disorder, spends 23 hours a day in lockdown in the Tulsa County jail.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Before he was locked up in the Tulsa County jail, James Alexander lived in a hole in the ground.

That hole was under Interstate 44 in east Tulsa, and there he slept, ate and stored his belongings, including food he had stolen from nearby stores. He lived with depression related to bipiolar II disorder.

In jail for nearly two years since, Alexander, 30, now has a stable life. He is locked up 23 hours a day but gets steady meals. He is offered medication but refuses to take it.

His red beard is wiry and his fingernails long and yellowed.

Law Enforcement Seizures Misspent, Missing

Jul 18, 2015
Oklahoma state senator Kyle Loveless.
Oklahoma Senate

Funds and property seized by Oklahoma law enforcement agencies have gone missing or have been used for personal or other improper purposes, state audit records reveal.

Among the violations were using seized money to pay on a prosecutor’s student loans and allowing a prosecutor to live rent-free in a confiscated house for years, records show.

Verna Foust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Oklahoma City, said people with mild depression, anxiety and other problems are "falling through the cracks," not getting treatment.
Lindsay Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

Every year, thousands of Oklahomans with mental-health or addiction problems call or show up at state-funded treatment centers and get little or no care.

The message is: Until you get sicker, you will get minimal help from the state.

That’s because Oklahoma’s mental-health system relies on a “triage” approach that limits most subsidized treatment to the seriously ill.

State Program Diverting Workers’ Tax Payments to Businesses

Jun 13, 2015

Oklahoma employees of Goodyear, Hitachi and 15 other firms are contributing part of their paychecks to help pay for plant expansions and equipment purchases costing more than $89 million, an Oklahoma Watch investigation shows.

In many cases, they probably don’t even know it.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville
okhouse.gov

Because of a failure to write clear laws, Oklahoma leaders say, the state paid more than $90 million to insurance companies it shouldn’t have over the past five years in the form of rebates.

The rebates were paid to insurance firms that provide workers’ compensation coverage in Oklahoma and that had paid assessments required by state law to a fund called the Multiple Injury Trust Fund.

Schools Chief Warns Of Larger Classes, Closing Schools

Jun 6, 2015
Joy Hofmeister

Schools are closing, teacher layoff notices have gone out and class sizes will grow across Oklahoma because of the state’s standstill education budget, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said in an interview.

Hofmeister said details are emerging that show the state’s K-12 budget, which remained at $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2016, will ultimately result in cuts at many school districts. Overhead costs such as insurance are increasing, enrollment is rising and some districts are losing local revenue because of a drop in oil and gas production.

U.S. Supreme Court West Facade.
UpstateNYer / Wikimedia Commons

Updated May 1 at 12:15 p.m.: Listen to the oral arguments from Wednesday's Supreme Court hearing on Oklahoma's death penalty challenge. 

Original post below:

Exactly one year after a botched execution in Oklahoma, the state’s new lethal injection protocol came under intense questioning Wednesday by a divided U.S. Supreme Court, with the pivotal justice, Anthony Kennedy, doing little to tip his hand.

State long-term care ombudsman Bill Whited, holding a picture of his grandmother, Pearl Wolf.
M. Scott Carter / Oklahoma Watch

In the summer of 2013, Pearl Wolf, 93, got sick and went to the hospital. After watching her health decline, her family decided to place Wolf in a nursing home.

“She was really starting to deteriorate,” her grandson, Bill Whited, said.

The family decided to place Wolf in Rose Manor in Shawnee. Located near Wolf’s house, the facility accepted Medicaid and Medicare patients and Whited considered its staff excellent. The family hoped Wolf would get well enough to return home.

The Wellness Clinic in Roland
Anny Sivilay / Sequoah County Times

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous drugs has revoked the narcotic prescribing license of Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr., a physician in Roland, Okla., who prescribed 4.6 million dosage units of addictive drugs over an 18-month period in 2013 and 2014.

In a document filed Thursday, the bureau said Myers' record as medical director of the Wellness Clinic in Roland provided "clear and convincing evidence" of multiple instances of overprescribing activity.

A bill that gives the Legislature the authority to dramatically alter state agency rules and regulations probably won't be heard this session. The measure failed to receive enough votes in the House Administrative Rules Committee.

Senate Bill 308 would have allowed the Legislature to alter any ruled developed through the Administrative Procedures Act.  Under current law, the Legislature can vote only to approve or disapprove an agency's rules, once the rules have been vetted by the governor's office and the agency.

a school classroom with empty chairs
comedy_nose / Flickr Creative Commons

State education officials said Oklahoma’s new testing vendor “is absolutely not” tracking students on the Internet when monitoring social media in accordance with the state’s contract.

A provision in Measured Progress’ contract with Oklahoma calls for the New Hampshire-based education and testing vendor to monitor online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for issues regarding testing. The company is supposed to report those issues to the state Department of Education.

Dr. Janna Morgan, who directs the mental health services unit for the Corrections Department, has had to travel to prisons to conduct therapy sessions herself because of a shortage of mental-health staff.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Despite rising numbers of mentally ill prisoners, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has slashed by nearly half its group therapy programs and pared back individual therapy for inmates, resulting in fewer offenders receiving preventive treatment.

The department’s psychologists, psychiatrists and related staff members instead are focusing on crisis intervention, reacting to things like suicide attempts and erratic or violent behavior.

Todd Lamb: On the Road

Mar 17, 2015
Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb.
ok.gov

Todd Lamb, Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor, isn’t at the Capitol much.

Now in his second term, Lamb, a Republican, has spent a good portion of his tenure as second-in-command traveling across Oklahoma or out of state. He just finished his fifth tour as lieutenant governor in which he visited 77 counties in 77 days.

On Friday, in McAlester – his last stop on the tour – Lamb was asked by a McAlester News-Capital reporter about any plans to run for governor in four years. “I’ve been asked if it’s in the back of my mind,” Lamb said. “It’s in the front of my mind.”

Fallin’s Office Didn’t Release Records Sought in Past 11 Months

Mar 15, 2015
Gov. Mary Fallin and other state leaders observe a PowerPoint presentation of revenue projections.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Until Friday, Gov. Mary Fallin’s office had not released records requested in the previous 11 months by members of the news media and other groups, according to her office’s catalog of Open Records Act requests.

Ilea Shutler / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she knows of no school grading system in the nation that she likes and believes Oklahoma can develop its own pioneering system to measure school performance.

However, she said revising the controversial A through F grading system is not an immediate priority. She is focused now on a “crisis” with keeping and hiring teachers and trying to add more days to the school year.

Oklahoma graduated 85 percent of its high school students in 2012-2013 according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics Thursday.

That graduation rate ranks Oklahoma 20th nationally, and puts the state ahead of the national average of 81 percent.

(L-R) Oklahoma Watch executive editor David Fritze, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Robert Neu, and Associate Superintendent Aurora Lora
Oklahoma Watch

By any measure, Oklahoma City Public Schools is struggling.

Many schools are underperforming. Thousands of students are falling short in reading or math. Teachers are stressed and say they are underpaid, leading to constant turnover.

Superintendent Rob Neu and Associate Superintendent Aurora Lora spoke to those issues and others at an “Oklahoma Watch-Out” community forum Sept. 30 near downtown Oklahoma City.

In Education, Do Parents Matter?

Oct 15, 2014
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

At John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City, only 22 percent of parents attended a parent-teacher conference in 2012-2013, state records show.

In Tulsa, just 4 percent of parents at Central Junior High School made at least one parent-teacher meeting – the lowest rate in the district.

Rob Neu, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent
Oklahoma City Public Schools

The public will get a chance to question new Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu about his policies and goals for the district during a public forum on education Tuesday.

Neu is in his third month as Oklahoma City’s superintendent, but has already drawn attention with plans to increase teacher pay, implement more technology in the classroom and enact a student-loan forgiveness program for University of Central Oklahoma students who teach in the district for three years. He and new Associate Superintendent Aurora Lora, who will also appear at the forum, have said they wish to provide more support to principals and teachers and strengthen the curriculum.

The forum, organized by non-profit investigate news organization Oklahoma Watch, will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Kamps 1910 Café, 10 NE 10th St., in Oklahoma City.

Neu, who was hired to replaced interim Superintendent Dave Lopez in July, previously was superintendent for Federal Way Public Schools near Seattle.

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