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#FeaturedFour: Teacher Benefit Cuts, Private Prisons, Water Woes, Abortion Petition Struck Down

empty classroom
Jacob McCleland

Four stories that were trending or generated discussion online or on KGOU’s social media platforms during the past week.

State Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, wants to give school districts the ability to give teachers other options for health insurance, retirement benefits, and salary structure. But administrator groups and teachers’ unions are pushing back. The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration said the move would further incentivize teachers to leave Oklahoma, where teacher pay is already significantly lower than neighboring states. The Oklahoma Education Association says insurers would have a smaller risk pool if individual districts start opting out.
Reader Redok writes: “I have been an educator for many, many years, and I have yet to feel good about this noble profession! I absolutely LOVE to teach, but it becomes more and more difficult to keep my chin up. Every year is a trick bag as to whether or not we have insurance, get a raise, have a job or even whether or not we will be safe in our own schools! I have only to look forward to retirement, but even that isn't looking very good...sad...”

Credit Wesley Fryer / Flickr

Oklahoma’s prison system currently operates at 122 percent capacity, forcing inmates to be doubled- or tripled-up in cells, or even sleeping in bunk beds moved out to common areas of cell blocks. There are three privately-run prisons in Oklahoma, and they hold more than 30 percent of the inmates in state custody. They cost the Oklahoma Department of Corrections more than $92 million in Fiscal Year 2015, but a pair of recent violent disturbances in Cushing are raising questions about whether easing the state’s burden is worth sacrificing prisoner safety.
Reader Kristen King wrote on Facebook: Private prisons have gotten our state to introduce legislation that increases the number of crimes categorized as 50% and 85% crimes-- meaning criminals have to serve at least that much of their sentences. We now have more of those types of crimes than just about any other state and it's a huge reason we have all this overcrowding. Additionally private prisons don't offer as many classes to rehabilitate folks, who then are more likely to get into trouble once out.

Algae grow on the floor of the pipe room in the Hugo water plant because water leaks constantly, as shown in this late July photo.
Credit Sarah Terry-Cobo / The Journal Record
The Journal Record
Algae grow on the floor of the pipe room in the Hugo water plant because water leaks constantly, as shown in this late July photo.

The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo has spent most of the past year following the saga of water quality in the small southeastern Oklahoma town of Hugo. The British company Severn Trent Services neglected treatment facilities over a period of several years, which led to boil orders and the possibility of bacteria in Hugo’s drinking water that could cause diarrhea or vomiting. Oklahoma City has been considering a contract with Severn Trent to manage its drinking water services, and city councilmembers are on record saying they think Hugo was an isolated incident. The city’s Water Utilities Trust Authority approved the contract with Severn Trent last week, but at Tuesday’s meeting the full City Council delayed voting on the plan.

Oklahoma Supreme Court chambers
Credit Jacob McCleland / KGOU

A grassroots petition to make anyone who performs an abortion guilty of homicide was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court this week. The state’s high court says it’s a clear violation of U.S. Supreme Court precedent establishing a right to an abortion. State justices unanimously ruled that federal law trumps the effort unless SCOTUS says otherwise.
Reader John Pitchlynn said on Facebook: “Good...it's not the government business in the first place what medical decisions a person makes with their own bodies.”

That’s a look at four stories that audiences appreciated on KGOU’s social media and online platforms this week. We’re always interested in your comments, feel free to write to us at news@kgou.org.

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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