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Noonletter, Nov. 20, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Reduced to dollars

Jayla Haag was just an 18-month-old girl when she died from abuse while living in a meth house in El Dorado.

On Monday, a panel of Kansas officials OK’d a $75,000 payment to settle a lawsuit blaming the state for doing too little to save her. Stephen Koranda reports that the Department for Children and Families was accused in the suit of not following up on abuse reports before her death from blunt force injuries to the head.

The girl had tested positive for methamphetamine at birth.

It was one of several high-profile and heartbreaking cases involving the state’s troubled child welfare system in the Wichita area.

“As a result of that death, DCF policy was changed, and the way they handle these cases was changed,” Kansas Senate President Susan said. “It’s truly a horrific case.”

Been there

Kathleen Sebelius knows a little bit about being a Democratic governor in this Republican (if alternately moderate and conservative) state.

Like Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, Sebelius had been in the Kansas Legislature before winning an election as governor. Kelly’s time in the state Senate, Sebelius told Jim McLean, will serve her well.

“I always felt that … it was a huge advantage to me to be a governor who had served in the Legislature because you know the job very well and you know what the committees are like and you know how to get things done,” she said. “Laura (Kelly) has that in spades.”

But Sebelius also warns that the environment in Topeka has become more poisonous and partisan. That, she said, will make the job tougher.

Hear the interview or see excerpts here.

Room to memorialize

The first Kansas law enforcement officer died in the line of duty more than a century and a half ago.

A memorial on the grounds of the Kansas Statehouse notes each such death since. So far, that number stands at 281. The memorial has room for 39 more. (In the last 10 years, 14 law enforcement officers’ names have been added.)

On Monday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced plans for a $500,000 addition raised with private donations to make more room.

Heavy, man

Until recently, the world’s definition of a kilogram was a hunk of metal sitting in a vault outside of Paris. All other kilograms, including a copy in Topeka, traced their mass to that object.

But it was losing weight. And as Brian Grimmett put it, like a game of telephone, the further away a copy gets from the original, the more likely it doesn’t match.

So the world of weights and measures decided to change the definition of a kilogram — and by association, the weight of a milligram or an ounce or a pound — to something more constant. And replicable.

The new definition of a kilogram is based on how much energy it takes to balance a weight. Using the new method will make it easier to create more than one official kilogram.

While that will help narrow the gap between copies and originals, Kansas officials say the increase in accuracy will be so small that most consumers won’t notice a difference.

State of work

The job numbers in Kansas continue to look good. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Kansas hovered at 3.3 percent in October, the same as the month before and slightly lower than a year earlier.

It may not feel like it to somebody looking for a job — about 48,000 people in the state last month — but economists generally consider rates that low to be full employment. There are enough spots for those people who want to work; it’s just a matter of matching openings to people with the right skills.

The Kansas Department of Labor noted an increase in the number of nonfarm, private sector jobs over the previous year.

Campus crime numbers fudged

The Topeka Capital-Journal has unearthed a federal audit concluding that administrators at Haskell Indian Nations University underreported crime statistics for two years.

The newspaper reports that the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Interior also concluded in its findings this month the school didn’t follow its own policy for misconduct complaints.

Workers at the school told the inspector general that Haskell President Venida Chenault left them feeling “bullied and intimidated” and that she attended a meeting that led to a family member landing a high-level job on the campus.

Chenault told federal investigators Haskell’s annual crime reports for 2014 and 2015 were inaccurate but that she did not deliberately misrepresent statistics.

Haskell has about 1,000 students drawn from scores of tribes Alaskan native communities.

Should wait until after Thanksgiving, but …

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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