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Headlines for Friday, March 16, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Consultant Suggests Kansas Schools Could Need $450 Million to $2 Billion More

A report released today (FRI) suggests lawmakers may have to add from $450 million to $2 billion to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order to get school spending in compliance with the state’s constitution.  School districts suing the state have called for at least $600 million.  The analysis — by external consultants — matters because Republican legislative leaders had hoped it could form the basis of their rationale to the Kansas Supreme Court for whatever amount they ultimately devote to the state’s education funding formula this spring.  The legislature hired the consultants amid a court order to fix school funding. At least one legislative leader said following the report’s recommendations would mean either massive cuts to other state services, or corresponding tax hikes.  Read more about this story from the Kansas News Service.

(AP version)

Report: Better Kansas Schools May Cost $2 Billion More

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report from two out-of-state consultants says improving student performance in Kansas public schools could cost the state as much as $2 billion more a year. The report released Friday stunned some legislators. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's more than $4 billion in spending a year on aid to public schools isn't sufficient under the state constitution. The report outlined multiple spending scenarios, and all assumed that the state would boost its high school graduation rate from 86 percent to 95 percent within four years. That would be the nation's highest rate. The consultants' lowest projected increase in annual spending would be $451 million, or almost 10 percent. The largest figure tops $2 billion. The consultants suggested phasing in any increase over five years.

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Some Larned State Hospital Workers Told to Work 16-Hour Days

LARNED, Kan. (AP) — Some employees at Larned State Hospital are being required to work 16-hour shifts because of a severe staffing shortage at the psychiatric hospital.  A hospital administrator on Tuesday issued an order requiring mental health technicians to work double shifts because of a 22 percent vacancy rate in those positions at the hospital in western Kansas.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports officials say employees at the hospital are unwilling to voluntarily work after 9 p.m. The interim chief nursing officer's directive will keep technicians until 11 p.m., even if that means a 16-hour workday.  Tim Keck, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the order was necessary to guarantee that patients get continuous and consistent care.  Robert Choromanski, head of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, called the order unjust and unfair.

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Wildfires Burn Thousands of Acres in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wildfires burned thousands of acres in Kansas and officials say more fires are possible as hot, dry conditions continue in most of the state.  The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for most of today (FRI) in  eastern Kansas and all afternoon and early evening in southeast Kansas. Thirty-six counties are in the warning zone.  The Wichita Eagle reports state officials traced 45 fires in Kansas on Thursday, which burned an estimated 13,000 acres.  The Kansas Adjunct General's Office said Thursday evening four fires were out of control and 12 others were active but under control.  Two buildings were destroyed in Kiowa County. No serious injuries have been reported.  A small part of northwest Kansas is the only area in the state not enduring drought or abnormal dryness.

-- related --

Fire Warnings Issued for 6 States in Nation's Midsection

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The National Weather Service has issued fire warnings for six states in the nation's midsection.  The Red Flag warnings issued Friday include most of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, southern Kansas, northeastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado and southeastern Missouri.  Oklahoma Forestry Services has already requested and received firefighters and equipment from Alabama, Kentucky and Louisiana because of the fire threat that is expected to continue into next week. Additional firefighters and equipment from Georgia and Mississippi are on the way.  Forestry spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker says they are positioned at various areas of the state and that could change daily in anticipation of which area is under the greatest threat of wildfire.  Finch-Walker said the firefighters and equipment could be sent to any of the other states as needs arise.

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Drought Marches Across Kansas and the Southern High Plains

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal and state experts in drought assessment and long-range forecasting are expected to provide an overview of the critical situation facing much of the southern high plains.  They're meeting today (FRI) as dry conditions intensify from the plains of eastern New Mexico to the Texas Panhandle and parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.  The latest map shows swaths of red covering the Four Corners Region and the southern high plains, indicating extreme to exceptional drought — the worst categories of drought.  For Oklahoma, this marks the first time exceptional drought has made an appearance since May 2015.  In New Mexico, the lack of water and an unseasonably warm winter have already resulted in a run on hay reserves and some livestock owners have been forced to trim their herds.

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Kansas Senate Approves Narrow Gun Measures

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved two relatively narrow gun bills after rejecting numerous gun-control proposals during a lengthy debate.  The vote Thursday was 25-15 on a bill clarifying rules for allowing people with permits to carry concealed guns in other states to carry concealed in Kansas.  Senators voted 40-0 to pass a bill making it a felony under state law for anyone convicted of domestic violence to possess a firearm within five years of a conviction. The change would allow prosecutions in state courts rather than federal courts that may not have time for them.  The House passed both bills last month but must consider Senate changes.  Senators debated but rejected proposals to ban the use of bump stocks and impose a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.

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Judge Excludes Child Porn Images from Kansas Bomb Plot Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Jurors who will decide the fate of three militia members accused of conspiring to bomb an apartment complex housing Somalis in Kansas will not hear evidence about alleged child pornography found during searches. The images found on a computer and drives were excluded Friday by U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren amid a flurry of filings in the days leading up to a trial that begins Tuesday. Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright, and Curtis Allen have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Stein also faces a weapons-related charge and Wright faces an additional charge of lying to the FBI. Stein pleaded not guilty in a separate case that will be tried in July accusing him of possession of child pornography.

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Leavenworth Decides to Arm Middle School Security Guards

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Security guards at a Leavenworth middle school will be carrying firearms beginning next week.  The Leavenworth Board of Education voted Wednesday to buy the firearms and other equipment such as handcuffs and Tasers.  The Leavenworth Times reports two retired law enforcement officers who work at Richard Warren Middle School will begin using the equipment when students return to school next week after spring break.  A statement from the board said the officers will be responsible for the equipment and will be certified twice a year with the Leavenworth Police Department.  Leavenworth High School already has an armed school resource officer from the city police department.

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Kansas Campus Speech Bill Stalls over Harassment Concerns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have narrowly rejected a bill designed to protect the free-speech rights of college students over concerns that it hamper efforts to fight harassment on campus.  The Senate vote Thursday on the measure was 20-20.  The bill would prevent state universities from having codes that limit student speech or from canceling appearances by offensive guest speakers even in the face of expected protests.  It failed because of a section on how universities discipline students for harassing other students. It would require the harassment to be so severe that it keeps another student from "an educational opportunity or benefit."  Several senators voting no said it would allow harassment of LGBT students or prevent universities from punishing students for sexual harassment.  Supporters said the measure could be rewritten to address those concerns.

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Kansas Judge Rebukes DCF Head's Adoption Decision Reversal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge in south-central Kansas says the state's newly confirmed secretary for children and families has improperly reversed an adoption decision for three children in foster care. The Wichita Eagle reports that DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel recently said the children should go to their grandfather instead of being adopted by their foster family like originally decided. Sedgwick County Judge Kevin Smith says Meier-Hummel's decision "potentially placed all three children in serious harm." Smith says he considered all necessary factors in selecting the foster parents to adopt and says the children should remain with them while continuing visits with their grandfather. Meier-Hummel says her decision was based on "serious concerns raised by the grandfather," who's tried to adopt the children for two years. Smith says he expects Meier-Hummel to attend a hearing about the adoption next month.

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Freeze on Social Activities at Kansas Fraternities Cancelled

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The organization governing fraternities at the University of Kansas is cancelling a policy announced earlier this week that temporarily froze social activities for the 24 fraternities. The University of Kansas Interfraternity Council voted Thursday to rescind the freeze, which was instituted Monday. The council said the proposed social activities freeze violated the organization's constitution and was imposed without following proper procedures. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the council said the freeze was not voted on by the General Assembly and was supported by only two of the four executive board members. The university said Monday the council had self-imposed the freeze because of systemic problems at the fraternities, although school officials have declined to be specific about the problems. The four members were relieved of their IFC duties on Tuesday, pending an investigation.

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Hacker Who Turned in Chelsea Manning to FBI Dead at Age 37

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Kansas have confirmed the death of the computer hacker who turned in Chelsea Manning to law enforcement for giving thousands of documents to WikiLeaks. Sedgwick County spokeswoman Kate Flavin said Friday that Adrian Lamo's body was at the morgue in Wichita, but she had no other details about the 37-year-old's death. Manning, who is transgender and went by Bradley at the time of her arrest, was convicted in 2013 of leaking a trove of classified documents. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence and Manning was released from military prison in May after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence. Lamo testified that Manning contacted him because of his notoriety in the hacking community. Lamo was convicted of computer fraud after he was arrested in 2004 for hacking The New York Times and Microsoft.

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Suspect in Shooting of Father and Son Faces Murder Charge

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The suspect in the shooting of a father and son is now facing a murder charge after one of the victims died. WIBW reports John Wesley Towner Jr. was charged Thursday with second-degree murder in the death of 34-year-old John Austin Jr. in January. Towner originally was charged with two counts of attempted murder and other crimes. Austin and his 57-year-old father, John Austin Sr., were shot on January 22 outside a central Topeka home. Towner is being held on $100,000 bond. His jury trial is scheduled to begin June 11.

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1 Dead, 5 Injured in Wrong-Way Crash on Kansas Interstate

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says one person was killed and five others were injured in a crash that happened after one driver went the wrong way on Interstate 35.  The crash happened Wednesday night just east of Ottawa.  The patrol says a Chevy Suburban driven by an 18-year-old Kansas City, Kansas, man was heading north in the southbound lanes of the interstate when it collided head-on with another vehicle.  A passenger in the Suburban, 32-year-old Tyra Cooper, of Independence, Missouri, died at the scene. The driver was hospitalized in Overland Park.  The driver and three passengers in the second vehicle were taken to an Overland Park hospital. The conditions of the injured were not immediately available.

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Western Governors Take Aim at Worst Invasive Species

DENVER (AP) — Western U.S. governors have compiled their first region-wide list of the worst invasive species for their states.  The Western Governors' Association Thursday released a compilation of 50 pests ranging from weeds and wild boars to insects and amphibians.  The governors want to prioritize efforts to defend against the intruders.  Pests that have been in the headlines before include water-gulping salt cedar trees and quagga mussels, which clog water and sewer pipelines.  Others may be surprises, including feral cats.  At least two diseases made the list: white nose syndrome, which infects bats, and whirling disease, which attacks fish.  The association says salt cedars are the worst land-based invasive species. The Eurasian watermilfoil is the worst in the water.  The list is based on a survey of state invasive species coordinators.

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KC Star Editor Put in Charge of McClatchy Dailies in Midwest

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The McClatchy Co. has named Mike Fannin, Kansas City Star executive editor and vice president, to be its Midwest regional editor.  In that capacity, Fannin will take charge of news operations at the Star, Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas, Wichita Eagle in Kansas and the Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois.  The move was one of several announced by McClatchy on Thursday . Wichita Eagle editor Steve Coffman has been promoted to editor of the Star-Telegram, effective April 9. He succeeds Lauren Gustus, who was promoted to months ago to regional editor for McClatchy newspapers on the West Coast.  Prior to his Wichita assignment, Coffman was executive editor of the Jackson Sun in Tennessee.

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Camp Minden Explosives Trial Has Connection to Kansas

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A change-of-plea hearing has been set for a former official of a company that abandoned tons of potentially explosive artillery propellant in Louisiana. Lionel Koons was inventory control manager for Explo Systems when it went bankrupt in 2013, leaving 7,800 tons (7,100 metric tons) of M6 propellant on land leased from the Louisiana National Guard. He has pleaded not guilty to 31 counts. Online court records show that Friday, Judge Elizabeth Foote scheduled a change-of-plea hearing for Koons next Friday in Shreveport. One company co-owner pleaded guilty in December to reduced charges. Trial is scheduled in June for the other owner and four co-defendants. Prosecutors say they will show that one of those co-defendants also ordered employees of a Kansas company to store explosives in unsafe conditions from 2000 into 2002.

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Judge Denies Reduced Sentence for Man to be with Ill Mother

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge has declined to end a man's prison sentence four months early so he could be deported to Mexico to be with his ailing mother.  WIBW-TV reports that Shawnee County District Judge Nancy Parrish on Wednesday reaffirmed the full sentence of 40-year-old Victor Anzua-Torres. He was returned to his cell.  Anzua-Torres was convicted of reckless second-degree murder for the December 2005 head-on collision that killed 28-year-old paramedic Ryan Ostendorf. Anzua-Torres was driving on the wrong side of a road and also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months. Four months remain on the sentence.  Anzua-Torres' mother lives in Mexico. She is battling heart disease, high blood pressure and other ailments.  Prosecutors opposed the reduced sentence.

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Dog Sent Overseas by Mistake Returned to Kansas Family

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A dog who was mistakenly flown to Japan is back with his family in Kansas.  The German Shepherd, named Irgo, arrived at a Wichita airport Thursday night after a flight on a private plane from Japan.  Kara Swindle and her two children were flying on United Airlines from Oregon to Kansas City, Missouri, earlier this week during a move to Wichita, Kansas.  When they went to pick up Irgo, they instead were given a Great Dane.  United said in a statement that the dogs were somehow put on the wrong flights during a connecting flight in Denver.  Swindle wouldn't say Thursday whether she is considering legal action. But she was pleased with United's efforts to return Irgo. She said the dog seemed healthy and happy to be home.

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Top-Seeded Kansas Comes Alive, Beats Penn, Advances in NCAA Tourney

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Devonte Graham kept driving to the rim, using his deft crossover and blinding first step to get past Penn's defenders, only to watch every shot he put up bounce out.  He turned to teammate Malik Newman and said, "Man, I'm just not finishing."  Newman's reply: "Keep being aggressive."  Graham evidently listened.  The Big 12 player of the year finally started to get his shots to go, igniting sluggish Kansas midway through the first half and finishing with 29 points, lifting the top-seeded Jayhawks to a tough, grind-it-out 76-60 victory over the Quakers in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.  Lagerald Vick added 14 points for the Jayhawks (28-7), who trailed the Ivy League champs by 10 in the early stages Thursday before going on a 19-2 run late in the half to take control.  Graham, perhaps atoning for a dismal performance in last year's tournament loss to Oregon, also had six rebounds and six assists as the Jayhawks cruised into a second-round matchup with eighth-seeded Seton Hall — which beat North Carolina State — in the loaded Midwest Region.  "We didn't play well offensively the first half. We stunk," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It's hard for us to play well offensively if we don't make shots because we don't have a big guy to throw it into right now. The way they defended us, we needed a guard to take it on himself to get downhill."  Graham stepped up to the task.

"Give Kansas a ton of credit. Thought they played a terrific game," Penn coach Steve Donahue said. "It was a great basketball game for about 35 minutes. Then they finished us off."  The Jayhawks played most of the way without 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who hurt a ligament in his left knee in practice last week. The sophomore center played three minutes, all in the first half, and struggled to move around while wearing a bulky brace on his leg.  Newman, the MVP of last week's Big 12 Tournament, and Svi Mykhailiuk scored 10 points apiece for Kansas, which won its 12th consecutive NCAA opener — and avoided some ignominious history.  

Trying to succeed where 132 other No. 16 seeds had failed, the Quakers raced to a 21-11 lead with about 7 minutes left in the first half. They leaned on their stingy perimeter defense to limit the hot-shooting Jayhawks' 3-point barrage, and their pick-and-roll offense was humming.  It took the Big 12 player of the year to restore some order.  Graham picked the pocket of Caleb Wood on defense, trailed a fast-break play and was there to lay in Mykhailiuk's missed layup, trigging what would become a 19-2 run over the next six minutes.  Graham added back-to-back baskets at the rim, then knocked down a pair of 3s later in the run. He capped his 19-point first-half barrage by drawing a foul as the Quakers were attempted to give a foul away, then hitting all three foul shots.  That gave the Big 12 champions a 33-26 lead heading into the locker room.  Penn hung around until midway through the second half, when the bigger, stronger Jayhawks began to assert control. Their veteran backcourt did most of the work, slowly drawing away.  

"Credit to Graham, he realized what was going on in the game. He has a great feel for the game," Penn's Darnell Foreman said. "Knowing he's a senior, he had to step up and force the tone and create and he did a great job of that."  Penn was one of the top 3-point defenders in the nation, and the Jayhawks missed eight of their first nine attempts. But Kansas still went 7 of 17 for the game, and each of those 3s seemed to come whenever Penn was threatening to make a run.  The Jayhawks, who made their first appearance in Wichita since 1992, will face Seton Hall on Saturday.

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