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$1.5 Million Short 

East Valley neglects to collect transportation levy funds; plus, the Spokane City Council funds further research into police contacts and racial disparities

click to enlarge The Spokane City Council approved money to finish research into Spokane police interactions with the public.
  • The Spokane City Council approved money to finish research into Spokane police interactions with the public.

COSTLY ERROR

Everyone makes mistakes. But when that mistake could cost an entire school district $1.5 MILLION, it becomes a big problem.

East Valley School District says that it failed to collect $1.5 million of a $3 million transportation levy approved by taxpayers last year. This, according to the district, was due to a clerical error.

"The board and I recognize this mistake affects everyone in our district," East Valley Superintendent Kelly Shea says in a video notifying residents of the error.

The two-year levy was supposed to allow the district to purchase 25 new school buses that were safer, more efficient and more reliable. But this May, the district discovered that Spokane County was not collecting the levy because the district never authorized the county assessor to collect the $1.5 million in 2016.

Shea, who became superintendent in July 2015, says he says he takes "full responsibility" for the error.

He says the district has since corrected the error; it leaves East Valley with a couple of options to fix the damage already done. The district is considering either collecting the other half of the levy in 2017 and buying 12 new buses, or collecting the full $3 million in 2017 and purchasing the 25 new buses as originally planned. The latter option would cost owners of a home valued at $200,000 about $17 per month, or $204 per year.

The East Valley school board has scheduled two meetings this month — on Tuesday, Sept. 27 and Thursday, Sept. 29 — to hear public input. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

DEEP DATA DIVE

In a nod to the critical role that data — especially data broken down by race — plays in contacts between POLICE AND THE PUBLIC, the Spokane City Council Monday night approved $16,000 to fund the second phase of a long-anticipated research project.

"This has been sitting on the shelf for over a year now," Council President Ben Stuckart says. "We thought it was important to get this moving forward."

The first phase of the research conducted by Eastern Washington University professor Ed Byrnes, with the help of SPD Capt. Brad Arleth, showed disparities in contacts between Spokane police and certain racial groups. Spokane police were also more likely to search and arrest certain racial minorities, though there were no racial disparities in uses of force, the data showed. That report was released in March 2015. At the time, Byrnes and Arleth cautioned that they needed more data to paint a more complete picture.

A second, more detailed report was originally scheduled for release in the fall of 2015. But the city wasn't able to gather enough funding until now. Byrnes produced the first report pro bono.

With the funding in place, Byrnes will use 2½ years of data to drill down into officer-initiated contacts, searches, arrests and uses of force broken down by neighborhood. He'll also be able to use the data to predict the outcome of police contact based on demographics and crime characteristics of neighborhoods where the contacts occurred, along with race, age and gender of the citizen.

Byrnes adds that Arleth has been replaced by Maj. Justin Lundgren as department liaison at the direction of acting Chief Craig Meidl. Byrnes says he was not consulted about Meidl's decision, but was notified in an email in late August.

"Normally, research partners are not removed unless there's some problem such as an ethical or professional conflict," Byrnes says. "I wasn't consulted about it, and I don't agree with the decision. I don't have anything against Justin [Lundgren], and my commitment is to get the data before the community."

Byrnes expects that his second report will come out in March 2017.

Also this week, Mayor David Condon proposed a 16.3 percent increase in city spending, including an extra $1.7 million pumped into the police department, $1.6 million of which will go toward investigations. Condon's proposal includes a plan to shift spending from patrol to property crime investigations, calling them Spokane's "number-one issue." (MITCH RYALS)

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