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Throngs mourn, Iranian leader weeps for general slain by U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader wept Monday over the casket of a top general killed in a U.S. airstrike, his prayers joining the wails of mourners who flooded the streets of Tehran demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.

The funeral for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani drew a crowd said by police to be in the millions in the Iranian capital, filling thoroughfares and side streets as far as the eye could see. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.

Authorities later brought his remains and those of the others to Iran’s holy city of Qom, turning out another massive crowd.

The outpouring of grief was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad’s airport. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war.

His slaying already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge.

In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.

Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened the U.S. military in the Middle East while also warning President Donald Trump, whom she called “crazy.”

“The families of the American soldiers ... will spend their days waiting for the death of their children,” she said to cheers.

Her language mirrored warnings by other Iranian officials who say an attack on U.S. military interests in the Middle East looms. Iranian state TV and others online shared a video that showed Trump’s American flag tweet following Soleimani’s killing turn into a coffin, the “likes” of the tweet replaced by over 143,000 “killed.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed over the caskets of Soleimani and others at Tehran University after a brief mourning period at the capital’s famed Musalla mosque, The mosque was, where prayers were said over the body of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, after his death in 1989.

Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani and referred to him as a “living martyr,” broke down in tears four times while offering Muslim prayers for the dead.

“Oh God, you took their spirits out of their bodies as they were rolling in their blood for you and were martyred in your way,” Khamenei said as the crowd wailed. Soleimani will be buried Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman.

Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, stood near Khamenei’s side, as did President Hassan Rouhani and other leaders of the Islamic Republic. While Iran recently faced nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices that reportedly led to the killing of more than 300, Soleimani’s death has brought together people from across the country’s political spectrum, temporarily silencing that anger.

Demonstrators burned Israeli and U.S. flags, carried a flag-draped U.S. coffin or displayed effigies of Trump. Some described Trump as a legitimate target.

Mohammad Milad Rashidi, a 26-year-old university graduate, predicted more tension ahead.

“Trump demolished the chance for any sort of possible agreement between Tehran and Washington,” Rashidi said. “There will be more conflict in the future for sure.”

Another mourner, Azita Mardani, warned that Iran “will retaliate for every drop of his blood.”

“We are even thankful to (Trump) because he made us angry, and this fury will lead to shedding of their blood in the Persian Gulf and the region’s countries,” Mardani said. “Here will become their graveyard.”

Ghaani made his own threat in an interview shown Monday on Iranian state television. “God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken,” he said.

Markets reacted Monday to the tensions, sending international benchmark Brent crude above $70 a barrel for part of the day and gold to a seven-year high. The Middle East remains a crucial source of oil, and Iran in the past has threatened the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all the world’s oil traded passes.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, chairing emergency talks with the alliance’s ambassadors in Brussels, called for “restraint and de-escalation,” adding: “A new conflict would be in no one’s interest.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned global political tensions were “at their highest level this century.” He added: “stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Re-start dialogue. Renew international cooperation.”

Ghaani, a longtime Soleimani deputy, has taken over as the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds, or Jerusalem, Force, answerable only to Khamenei. Ghaani has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2012 for his work funding its global operations, including its work with proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Those proxies likely will be involved in any operation targeting U.S. interests in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Already, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.” In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game for attacks.

“We promise to continue down martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before with help of God, and in return for his martyrdom we aim to get rid of America from the region,” Ghaani said.

The head of the Guard’s aerospace program, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, suggested Iran’s response wouldn’t stop with a single attack.

“Firing a couple of missiles, hitting a base or even killing Trump is not valuable enough to compensate for martyr Soleimani’s blood,” Hajizadeh said on state TV. “The only thing that can compensate for his blood is the complete removal of America from the region.”

On the nuclear deal, Iran now says it won’t observe the accord’s restrictions on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities. That’s a much-harsher step than they had planned to take before the attack.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have urged Iran to “withdraw all measures” not in line with the deal.

Iran insisted it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions last year. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.


Local
Tulsa gas prices fall, but 'fireworks at the pump' possible if Iran attacks infrastructure

While gas prices in Tulsa have actually fallen in the last week, they likely will go up amid recent soaring tensions in the Middle East — and how much is directly proportional to what happens next, a national analyst said.

“The ... concern is if Iran retaliates and the degree of retaliation,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, a fuel-price tracking company.

“A big response would have a potential big impact,” he said by phone Monday.

“For now, I could see a small 5 to 10 cent per gallon increase (nationally) over the next couple of weeks, but the real potential for fireworks at the pump will be contingent on retaliation, and whether that retaliation targets oil infrastructure like Iran struck last year,” he said.

Tulsa’s prices could go up by as much as 20 cents per gallon, he said.

The U.S. killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on Friday. Early Sunday, as Iran threatened to retaliate, President Donald Trump tweeted the U.S. was prepared to strike 52 sites in Iran if any Americans are harmed.

Fears that Iran could strike back at oil and gas facilities important to the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies stem from earlier attacks widely attributed to Iran.

The U.S. has blamed Iran for a wave of provocative attacks in the region, including the sabotage of oil tankers and an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure in September that temporarily halved its production. Iran has denied involvement in those attacks.

Following the attack on the Saudi oil facilities in mid-September, gas prices in Tulsa jumped about 15 cents per gallon, but then were back down by the end of the month, DeHaan said.

“There’s been no physical disruption or retribution from Iran, but it has been promised. Oil markets have risen on the rising risk of Iran retaliating, but until it happens, don’t expect gas prices to see much of a jump,” DeHaan said.

However, he added, “About the only way for this situation not to have an effect on gas prices is if Iran does not retaliate or if they don’t retaliate enough that President Trump just lets it go.”

“For now we’re in limbo, but typically gas prices decline slightly in January and February thanks to seasonally weak gasoline demand.”

Tulsa gas prices have fallen 3.9 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.15 per gallon Monday, according to GasBuddy’s daily survey of 321 stations.

Gas prices in Tulsa are 4.6 cents per gallon higher than a month ago and 36.0 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

According to GasBuddy price reports, the cheapest station in Tulsa was $2.07 per gallon Monday, while the most expensive was $2.59 per gallon.

Neighboring areas and their gas prices:

• Oklahoma City: $2.19 per gallon, unchanged from last week’s $2.19.

• Wichita: $2.19 per gallon, down 6.6 cents per gallon from last week’s $2.26.

• Oklahoma: $2.24 per gallon, up 0.6 cents per gallon from last week’s $2.24.

The lowest price in the state Monday was $2.05 per gallon; the highest was $2.95.

The cheapest price in the entire country Monday was $1.89 per gallon, while the most expensive was $4.99 per gallon.

On average, Oklahoma was the least expensive state at $2.22 per gallon and Hawaii the most expensive at $3.65, DeHaan said.

The national average price of gasoline has fallen 2.2 cents per gallon in the last week, averaging $2.57 per gallon Monday. The national average is down 2.4 cents per gallon from a month ago and 34.3 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil on Monday rose 22 cents to settle at $63.27 per barrel, adding to a jump of $1.87 per barrel Friday.

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Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.

Read the story: Tulsa Police Department patrols the reading room in new program

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Education
Superintendent presents plan to close four Tulsa elementary schools as part of budget-cutting recommendations

More than 100 community members listened as Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist proposed most of her recommendations to eliminate about $20 million from the 2020-21 budget to school board members Monday night.

Most of the recommendations presented Monday centered on closing four elementary schools to save an estimated $2 million to $3 million, which equates to 15.5% of the overall proposed reductions. Jones, Grimes and Wright elementary schools would send their students to nearby schools next year, while Mark Twain would be consolidated into Wayman Tisdale Fine Arts Academy.

Each school closure is listed as its own recommendation, meaning the board will vote on them individually at its next meeting in two weeks.

Grimes, Wright and Mark Twain were chosen for closure largely due to their relatively low enrollment and low capacity utilization. Jones was chosen because the school is over capacity and its building is in need of expensive repairs.

Students who would have attended pre-K through fifth grade at Wright next year would attend Eliot Elementary or Patrick Henry Elementary, depending upon where they live.

Those at Grimes would attend Carnegie or Key. Jones students would attend MacArthur, Lindbergh or Bell.

Many of the community members at the meeting were there to support the deaf-education program at Wright, which would move to Patrick Henry if the recommendation is approved.

Board member Brian Hosmer, who represents Wright, said he heard concerns from parents about moving students in the deaf-education program from a school where they feel comfortable to a school that’s not accustomed to their needs.

“A number of parents were, I think it’s safe to say, deeply concerned about what amounts to substantial cultural change on both ends,” Hosmer said.

“I will say I am concerned about that, as well, because I think this is not simply a matter of moving kids. It’s a matter of moving vulnerable kids from one place to another and the receiving school not having the culture in place and the expectations in place to be warm and welcoming partners.”

Gist said that shared concern is why the program would be moved in its entirety, including every deaf-education staff member and some of Wright’s general-education educators, to Patrick Henry. Siblings of students in the program would be able to transfer together.

Additionally, Gist said she wants to take advantage of planned renovations at Patrick Henry to make better use the space for the program. She also pointed out that Patrick Henry was the original home for the deaf-education program.

“This is a not a new concept for Patrick Henry,” she said. “I’m not suggesting that it’s the same, and that’s why we’re totally committed to making sure the transition happens really smoothly, but it is not the first time for parents, students or teachers at the school to have experience with students or adults who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Board member Ruth Ann Fate asked when parents and students would be informed about where they’ll attend school next year if the recommendations are approved.

Chief Operating Officer Jorge Robles said the district would begin contacting affected families the next day. The enrollment window, which expires in late January, also would be extended to ensure they have enough time to transition to a new school.

Officials also plan to work one-on-one with teachers and staff at the affected schools to help them find other opportunities within TPS. Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon said the district would ask educators about where they’re interested in working and aims to have them placed in April.

The other recommendation proposed Monday involves a 2020-21 staffing plan providing for the distribution of staff to every school.

Although the recommendation does not provide additional information about any changes, Gist has said the district would shift the staffing plan at elementary schools from allocating general education teachers based on grade-level ranges to allocating teachers based on school-wide enrollment.

She’s also proposing to increase the elementary school staffing ratio from 23:1 to 24:1, which would result in an average class size increase of one student. Fifty-three percent of classes would have fewer than 24 students, compared to 67% currently.

This recommendation would save an estimated $3 million and would not affect middle schools or high schools.

Gist did not present the largest recommendation in her proposal, which would save the district an estimated $13 million to $14 million through reductions to district office services. Reductions include operational efficiencies, as well as the creation and deletion of unspecified positions. Although the cuts would affect every district office team, Gist said 54% are not personnel related.

TPS officials believe they can save approximately $6.1 million through personnel reductions, which include salaries and benefits, and $7.3 million through nonpersonnel reductions at the district office.

Additional specifics have not been released. The superintendent likely will wait until at least February to present the recommendation targeting the district office to give officials time to engage directly with affected staff members.

Also during the board meeting, Gist proposed a series of recommendations that would convert Memorial Junior High School, Central Junior High and Rogers Junior High into sixth- through eighth-grade middle schools in 2020-21. Those schools currently serve seventh- and eighth-graders.

The recommendations would eliminate the sixth grade at the following elementary schools: Burroughs, Emerson, Academy Central, Wayman Tisdale, Key, Marshall, Salk and Sequoyah.

Unlike the other recommendations, the grade configuration changes aren’t directly related to budget reductions. Robles said they’re a continuation of the district’s ongoing work to create consistency across TPS. The goal is for students to experience no more than two building transitions — from fifth to sixth grade and from eighth to ninth grade — by the 2021-22 school year.

Robles said the objective is to make it easier for families to navigate the district’s complicated grade system, and he noted that minimizing transitions helps support students’ academic performance and fosters meaningful relationships with teachers and other students.

“We know that a lot of families are challenged by the 14 grade configurations that we currently have across the district,” Robles said. “And we believe that this work is important to retain our families and grow our enrollment by building strong programming, particularly in our middle schools.”

Angela Foster, whose son attended several TPS schools before ending up at Edison, said racial and economic segregation continues to persist within the district. Disadvantaged and minority children, she said, are the ones who would most be impacted by the proposed plan.

For example, 93% of students at Jones Elementary are economically disadvantaged, but only 30% are white, according to the 2018-19 state report cards. The student population at Wright Elementary is 87% economically disadvantaged and 40% white. Grime’s is 82% economically disadvantaged, while Mark Twain’s is 92%.

Foster said she believes other schools, namely the TPS-sponsored charters, should have been chosen and that no schools should close until there’s an investigation into the purpose and motivation of their selection.

“It’s just baffling to me that instead of making more equity in our historically racially discriminating district, you’re going to make them less diverse and you’re making them less equitable,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Darryl Bright, president of Citizens United for a Better Educational System, criticized the school board for always approving plans by superintendents to shut down schools. He asked how board members collectively determine to vote for these plans and whether they’ve studied the outcomes of prior decisions. 

Bright said there's been no accountability for lingering problems within the district such as chronic absenteeism and low test scores. He wanted to know why nothing was done to address declining enrollment at Wright. 

“This is not a business,” Bright said. “This is not a bottom line with profits and earnings. The bottom line for this district is teaching and learning. We start at that point.”

David Harris, who was part of the budget advisory committee that provided administrators with feedback as they developed the recommendations, said it's up to the community to work together to push the district to succeed. 

Harris attended most of the community meetings TPS hosted throughout its schools regarding the budget shortfall and the superintendent's plan. He expressed disappoint that most people only attended the meeting at their local school and missed out on the perspectives of others across the district. 

He advocated for families at successful schools to involve themselves with what's happening at less fortunate schools. 

"At the end of the day, it's not just a Wright problem," Harris said. "It's not just a Monroe (Demonstration Academy) problem. It's a Tulsa problem. It's a Tulsa issue. And I trust and I believe that Dr. Gist is trying to do the best that she can, but at the end of the day the coach ain't the one playing on the field. We are the players. We have to be involved." 


Scenes from Jan. 6, 2020, Tulsa school board meeting

Gallery: Scenes from Jan. 6, 2020, Tulsa school board meeting

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News
State uses funds derived from gaming to defend against lawsuit brought by tribes

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt is using funds generated by tribal fees to pay for a law firm to defend him in a lawsuit brought by three of the state’s largest gaming tribes.

Stitt announced Friday the hiring of the Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie to represent him in a legal dispute over tribal gaming compacts.

Three tribes have sued the governor, asking a federal court for an order declaring that their tribal gaming compacts automatically renewed on Jan. 1.

Stitt and the tribes are at an impasse on the compacts. The governor believes they have expired and that Class III gaming is illegal without a new agreement. He is seeking higher fees from the tribes for gaming exclusivity.

Currently, the tribes pay between 4% and 10% in exchange for exclusivity rights to operate Class III games, which include slot machines, roulette and craps. The exclusivity fees generated nearly $150,000 million for the state last fiscal year.

The tribes believe the compacts automatically renewed, but they are willing to discuss higher rates in exchange for something of value if Stitt acknowledges automatic renewal.

Under the compacts, each gaming tribe pays an annual assessment of $35,000 to cover the state’s “costs incurred in connection with the oversight of covered games.”

In addition, tribes also pay a one-time $50,000 startup assessment “to assist the state in initiating its administrative and oversight responsibilities,” according to the compact.

The balance in the fund is nearly $2.1 million, according to a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

Donelle Harder, a Stitt spokeswoman, said the law firm is being paid up to $300,000 using funds from that account.

The figure could rise.

Stephen Greetham is senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, one of the three tribes that sued the state.

He said use of the funds to defend the suit seems “well outside any purpose authorized by that very same compact.”

The Chickasaw counsel also pointed out that Stitt contends the compact has expired.

“Given that Gov. Stitt believes the compact expired with the New Year, it is unclear what he thinks the state’s ongoing compact oversight responsibilities are,” Greetham said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, also has questions about the use of the fund to pay legal fees.

“Is this part of the compliance?” he asked.

Harder, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Gaming Compliance Unit funds have been used in recent years for various services, including legal services.

“The state’s contract with Perkins Coie, as it prepares to respond to the Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw Nation’s federal lawsuit, is not out of the norm for the Gaming Compliance Unit,” Harder said.

Tribal gaming 101: What you need to know about tribal gaming in Oklahoma.

Tribal gaming 101: What you need to know about Oklahoma tribal gaming