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State-and-regional
Opioid trial: Judge finds Johnson & Johnson created public nuisance, orders drug company to pay $572 million to state of Oklahoma

NORMAN — A judge returned a $572 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries Monday, ruling that their misleading marketing and distribution of opioid painkillers triggered a deadly crisis in Oklahoma.

“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately,” Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said in announcing the verdict.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter quickly claimed victory, even though the verdict was far short of the more than $17 billion that the state had requested.

Read the full story online at Oklahoman.com. (Some stories require a subscription.)


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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


Government-and-politics
Tulsa Transit gives preview of new Aero bus station

Bus Rapid Transit systems are often sold as providing the speed and convenience of rail service without the cost and time required to construct a rail system.

That was evident Monday morning when one of Tulsa’s Aero Bus Rapid Transit buses pulled up to a newly completed Aero bus station at the corner of Apache Street and Peoria Avenue.

There was no need to step up from the station platform to get onto the bus.

“Now, we can pull straight up to the station, not have to deploy a ramp in case you have a wheelchair,” said Liann Alfaro, planning and marketing director for Tulsa Transit. “People should be able to step right on. It’s just like if you were getting on a train.”

The city’s BRT system is not expected to be operational until late fall or early winter, but Monday, Tulsa Transit officials gave the media the opportunity to view one of the first two completed Aero bus stations, both of which are at the intersection of Apache and Peoria.

Fifty stations — 42 standard and eight smaller — are under construction along the 18-mile BRT route that runs from 54th Street North to 81st Street and Lewis Avenue.

Most standard BRT stops will have real-time bus information signs and, for the visually impaired, the option of pushing a button to prompt an audio announcement.

All standard BRT bus stops will have level boarding platforms, overhead shelters, benches, bike racks and handrails.

The smaller stations, known as constrained stations, are spread out along the Peoria Avenue route in locations where ridership has historically been the lowest. Smaller stations will have their own signage, an overhead shelter and a small bench. Most smaller stations will have real-time bus information signs and the push-button audio option.

Elliott Stiles, the city’s project manager for the BRT system construction, said the smaller bus stops could be upgraded to standard stations should the need arise.

“That is driven by the ridership numbers,” he said.

Alfaro said she hopes all Tulsans, especially those living along Peoria Avenue, will give the new BRT system a try.

“We would love to see families on the bus,” she said. “We would love to see professionals on the bus to be able to get to work because this route will go into and out of downtown.”

The BRT system’s biggest selling points are speed and shorter waiting times. During peak weekday hours — 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. — riders will wait no longer than 15 minutes for a bus and no more than 20 minutes during off-peak hours. The Saturday wait time is no more than 20 minutes, and Sunday’s is no more than 30.

The shorter waiting times are made possible in part by technology in the buses that allows green traffic lights to be extended to give the buses time to pass through an intersection.

“The goal a lot of the times was to try and put these stations on the far side of the intersection so the buses can get through,” Stiles said. “That reduces the chances of having people that have to whip around them because they want to turn right, but they are blocked by the bus.”

The city is spending approximately $20 million in Improve Our Tulsa and Vision Tulsa funds to pay for the buses, bus stations and other capital needs.

Tulsa Transit expects to spend about $3.3 million in fiscal year 2020 to operate the BRT system. That figure includes the costs Tulsa Transit would have spent to operate Route 105, which the BRT system is absorbing.

About half of that cost will be paid for with Vision Tulsa funds, with the remainder from the city’s general fund.

Alfaro said she sees the Aero BRT system as a great step forward for the city.

“We are going to be moving in the same direction some of the other cities are moving,” she said. “... At least try it once. See if it works for you once.”

Alfaro could not provide a specific start date as to when Tulsans can try out the new system. The Tulsa World reported in July that the starting date had been pushed back until late November, when the company contracted to construct the bus stops is expected to have them completed.


Featured video

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


Education
Jenks school board raises teachers' pay by $1,220; support staff, administrators receive 3% raise on average

JENKS — Jenks Public Schools is the latest district to implement teacher pay raises in the wake of improved education funding in this year’s state budget.

The Jenks school board unanimously approved a new pay scale that will increase teachers’ annual salaries by $1,220 during a special meeting Monday evening. Each teacher also moved up a step on the pay scale. Those with at least 25 years of experience will receive an additional $725 instead of a step increase.

Further, Jenks now covers 5.75% of teachers’ mandatory 7% contribution to the state’s teacher retirement fund, a 0.25 percentage point increase from last year. The district aims to pay the entire requirement in the future, a district spokesman said.

According to the new pay scale, the starting base salary for Jenks teachers with a bachelor’s degree has improved to $39,006, which is about $2,400 higher than the Oklahoma state minimum. Total compensation has increased to $41,299.

The raise was possible due to recent increases in common education funding.

The state budget signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in the spring contained $58.8 million for Oklahoma school districts to receive $1,200 teacher pay raises in addition to the average raise of $6,100 approved last year. It also included $74 million to allow schools to hire additional staff, lower class sizes and pay for materials.

“We’re just grateful that the state continues to invest in public education,” said Dana Ezell, the district’s executive director of human resources. “That’s enabled us to start moving those salaries up, which has helped with recruiting. We’re just very appreciative of that.”

Districts across the state are beginning to implement the latest raise as the 2019-20 school year gets underway. Some are producing even higher raises than the state is requiring, in part through conservative budgeting.

In June, Broken Arrow Public Schools proposed a significant pay raise that would increase a starting teacher’s salary by nearly $3,700. The school board is expected to vote on the proposal in September after it’s ratified by the Broken Arrow Education Association. If approved, the raise would propel Broken Arrow from being one of the lowest-paying districts in the Tulsa area to one of the highest.

The Jenks raise may not be as large as those at some other suburban districts, but, historically, the district has shown commitment to improving teacher pay, Ezell said.

“Our philosophy has been to make steady increases,” she said. “We’ve looked at investing in teachers every year. We know that a teacher is the single most important thing that leads to student achievement, so we really want to put everything we can toward our teachers.”

In an analysis by the Tulsa World, Jenks posted the fifth-highest base salary for teachers among area districts last year.

Michael Horn, president of the Jenks Classroom Teachers Association, said he’s thankful that the district approved a raise that was acceptable to teachers.

But Horn said he wants to see additional local and state funding dedicated to education in the coming years. His union plans to work more closely with district officials to continue advocating for educators and ensure they’re paid what they deserve.

“We are going to be forming a committee with the district to look at our salary schedule and begin to think not just year by year but look at an extended period of time with salary increases hopefully as a five-year plan,” Horn said.

The Jenks school board also approved a raise for support staff and administrators, who received on average a 3% salary increase.

The raises will be included in employees’ first 2019-20 paychecks on Friday.


Featured video

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


Government-and-politics
2nd Amendment group challenges permitless carry referendum in court

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association is challenging efforts to suspend a new permitless carry law until a statewide vote on the issue.

The group filed a legal challenge Monday in an attempt to head off a referendum on House Bill 2597, which would allow most Oklahomans to carry a gun without a license or training starting Nov. 1.

Rep. Jason Lowe, Moms Demand Action and Young Democrats of America are leading the volunteer effort to gather nearly 60,000 signatures to suspend implementation of HB 2597 and bring the measure to a statewide vote in 2020.

Click here to continue reading at Oklahoman.com. (Some stories require a subscription.)



Featured video

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