Kentucky editorial roundup

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Sept. 28

The Lexington Herald-Leader on KentuckyWired:

In one of state government's first big public-private partnerships — former Gov. Steve Beshear's laudable but fumbled effort to bring high-speed internet to all of Kentucky — the public was — how should we put this? — fleeced, rolled and taken to the cleaners by its private partners.

That's been clear for a while. Lawmakers explored the state's missteps earlier this year before deciding that Kentucky would lose more by backing out of the deal than by paying for all the cost overruns and seeing the broadband network through to completion, albeit years later than promised.

An audit released Sept. 27 by state Auditor Mike Harmon lays out the government's blunders in painful detail. The audit should be required reading for any state agency or local government contemplating a public-private partnership (P3, for short).

Between the initial agreement and the signed contracts, almost all of KentuckyWired's financial risk was shifted onto taxpayers from the private partners. The state is on the hook for millions in payments to contractors because of delays stemming from the state's assuming from the contractors the responsibility for acquiring rights-of-way to string wire on poles owned by uncooperative telecom companies.

In its response to the audit, the Kentucky Communications Network Authority explains that the state relied on the expertise of Macquarie Infrastructure Development, an Australian investment firm, and Macquarie's consortium for guidance on financing, design, construction, maintenance and how much revenue the broadband network would generate. "Such expertise is the cornerstone of all P3 projects."

Well, guess what, the private partners are looking out for their interests not those of the state, making that a shaky cornerstone.

The Beshear administration official who could explain some of the puzzling decisions and was the first head of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority is deceased.

The current executive director, Phillip K. Brown, seems competent and is trying to correct earlier mistakes and put the state on fairer contractual footing. Brown negotiated a settlement to pay contractors for delays, and this year's legislature authorized $88 million to pay those claims and $22 million for future claims. The settlement still is unsigned.

Despite the stumbling start, KentuckyWired is critical to the state's future. Without reliable connectivity, large swathes of Kentucky have scant economic hope. The private sector alone is no more going to bring broadband to low-population areas than it would have brought electricity to those places 80 years ago.

Fortunately, Harmon's audit exaggerates KentuckyWired's cost to taxpayers which he puts at $1.5 billion over 30 years. That estimate overlooks the fact that the state will be paying a lot of money for internet service over the next 30 years anyway, so it might as well be to KentuckyWired.

Oddly, despite this cautionary tale, lawmakers this year suspended until 2020 the legislature's oversight role in approving large public-private partnerships — an abdication of responsibility the legislature should reconsider.

Online: https://www.kentucky.com/

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Sept. 30

The News-Enterprise on public schools districts getting the first results from the state's new accountability system:

Public school districts across Kentucky received the first results in September from the state's new accountability system.

The new assessment model approved by the U.S. Department of Education in May under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act no longer ranks schools, identifies overall scores or provides "proficient" and "distinguished" rankings. While this creates a degree of difficulty in determining year-over-year comparison, the data does provide district officials and school administrators with insights on the progress and needed improvement in the classroom.

The results show academic performance has remained largely flat across Kentucky's public schools and concerning achievement gaps that continue for students with learning disabilities and among minority students.

Commenting on the release, interim Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis described 2017-2018 assessment results as "extremely troubling" and "a call to action for schools, districts, educators, parents, students and community and business leaders."

Lewis also said, "We must take bold and immediate action for the benefit of our students."

The new assessment scores schools on three metrics: proficiency as measured in state reading and math tests; separate indicator measurement of individual student performance in science, social studies and writing tests; and growth measurement of individual progress toward proficiency in reading and math.

The state Board of Education has set threshold measures to identify schools needing targeted improvement. Elementary, middle or high schools determined to be in the bottom 5 percent of their peers, or which had graduation rates below 80 percent, are identified in need of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI). Schools identified as being Targeted Support and Improvement schools (TSI) are those where at least one student group perform as poorly as schools in the bottom 5 percent. Schools not identified as CSI or TSI are identified as "Other."

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The designation, state officials stress, doesn't indicate these schools are failing, but does point to important improvement needs within particular student peer groups.

"Being on this list means that a significant shift must be undertaken to better address student learning," Lewis said in his statement.

New resources are promised to TSI schools by the state to help educators close these gaps.

New assessment models or not, the challenge for local and area schools remains the same.

There are students inside each school who perform exceptionally well academically while others struggle to keep up with their peers. Each day educators put hard work and creative effort toward identifying and overcoming learning obstacles and challenges of individual students. At the same time, they endeavor to leverage classroom teaching systems to provide a better learning environment for the whole.

Add to the mix the social, emotional and family life challenges students confront, which impact their performance, and teachers have much to contend with today in developing young minds to become contributing citizens in tomorrow's society.

District leaders and school administrators will continue to breakdown the results details to improve learning strategies and tactic for educators in the classroom. All understand the work that has to be done to affect change and improvement for future assessments. Implementing the proper new strategies the right way to address student subgroup learning gaps will improve the education process and resultant learning for all students.

Online: http://www.thenewsenterprise.com/

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Sept. 28

Richmond Register on Kentucky's fall wildfire season:

As cooler temperatures and falling leaves return, so has Kentucky's fall wildfire season, running from October to Dec. 15.

Despite a wet beginning to fall, weather conditions can change quickly and become favorable to wildfire activity.

Wildfires in Kentucky threaten damage to homes, private property, trees and landscapes. More importantly, wildfires place lives at risk, including those of firefighters. The vast majority of Kentucky's wildfires are preventable, the result of arson and careless open-burning (burning of trash, debris and brush).

The Kentucky Division of Forestry reminds us of the rules to keep ourselves, our neighbors, our homes and property as safe as possible.

It is against the law to do any open burning within 150 feet of any woodland or brushland between the daylight hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the fall and spring forest fire hazard seasons.

Compounding the risk, during the October to December fire hazard season, Kentucky typically sees lower relative humidity (RH) numbers than in summer, and winds become erratic due to the seasonal change. Because the humidity rises during the day and winds fall, restricting burning until after 6 p.m. during the fall and spring reduces the chances of outdoor fires escaping.

Arson continues to be the leading cause of wildfires in Kentucky, and will again be a focus of the division. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources officers will once again be assisting the division by investigating arson-caused wildfires.

"The partnership with Fish and Wildlife allows us to increase our ability to put professional investigators on arson cases. A single arsonist can set multiple fires and it is important to find and prosecute them," Division of Forestry Director James Wright said.

Arson is a felony offense and those convicted of arson can face fines and imprisonment.

The Division of Forestry offers these tips for safe outdoor burning:

- Consider alternatives to burning. Some yard debris, such as leaves and grass, may be more valuable if composted.

- Check with the fire marshal's office for local laws on burning debris. Some communities allow burning only during specified hours; others forbid it entirely.

- Check the weather. Don't burn if conditions are dry or windy.

- Only burn natural vegetation from your property. Burning household trash or any other man-made materials is illegal. Trash should be hauled away.

- If you must burn, be prepared. Use a shovel or hoe to clear a perimeter around the area where you plan to burn.

- Keep fire tools ready. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, a steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire.

- Never use flammable liquids such as kerosene, gasoline or diesel fuel to speed burning.

- Stay with your fire until it is completely out.

As officials have said, most of Kentucky's wildfires are preventable and the result of human activity. If people start wildfires, people can prevent them.

So when the urge for fall cleaning extends to burning brush in your yard or property, we urge everybody to follow the law and keep it under control.

Online: http://www.richmondregister.com/