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Condon's changes to SFD called illegal; plus, detainments on the rise in Coeur d'Alene

Firing Back

A Superior Court judge sided with the local firefighters union Friday, ruling that the city's reorganization of the fire department to allow for more mayor-appointed positions is illegal under state civil service law.

Last year, Mayor David Condon supported, and the city council approved, the reorganization of the fire, police and parks departments to make them divisions with multiple departments. Since each city department is allowed two mayor-appointed leadership positions, those reorganizations increased potential exempt positions in the three departments from six to 40. (Since the change, one of the fire department's exempt positions has been filled, though it remains unclear how this ruling will affect that position.) Supporters argue that appointed positions provide needed flexibility in creating strong leadership teams. Opponents, like Council President Ben Stuckart, say the changes wrongly circumvent civil service testing, which is intended to prevent nepotism.

While the administration has not yet announced whether it will appeal the decision, Condon said Monday he believes the changes were legal. Stuckart says he plans to bring forward an ordinance in coming weeks to return the fire department to its previous organization. Since the case was specific to the fire department, it will not immediately affect the police or parks reorganizations.

— HEIDI GROOVER

CdA Detainments Spike

While overall calls for service dropped, a newly released 2013 annual report indicates Coeur d'Alene Police Department officers have seen a dramatic increase in calls to "involuntarily detain" citizens debilitated by mental health, suicidal or drug intoxication issues. The report shows such detainments jumped to 299 last year, up from 185 in 2012.

"We've seen such an incredible increase," Sgt. Christie Wood says. "It's something that all law enforcement is dealing with."

Involuntary detainments at the department had dropped down as low as 168 in 2009, the report states, but have overall increased by 31 percent since 2005. Wood says most detainments involve taking a mentally unstable, suicidal or dangerously intoxicated person to an evaluation at Kootenai Medical Center. Officers can be tied up for hours, and if the hospital is full, they must sometimes drive subjects to Lewiston — a four-hour round trip.

"It is extremely time consuming," Wood says. "Law enforcement was never designed to be the fallback for caring for the mentally ill."

— JACOB JONES

Failing Grade

Washington state had a big first last week: It became the first state to officially lose its No Child Left Behind waiver. And that's costing schools statewide control of an estimated $40 million.

No Child Left Behind, passed in 2001, required public schools to make "adequate yearly progress" on state standardized math and reading tests, or face sanctions. Yet as the years progressed, the law required the percentage of students passing those tests to get higher and higher. By 2014, 100 percent of students were supposed to be passing.

While Congress hasn't repealed or amended No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration has offered states conditional waivers. But last year, the federal Department of Education demanded that Washington state use standardized test scores as at least one piece of its teacher evaluation.

Early this year, the state legislature faced pressure from teachers unions — which believe standardized tests can't judge teacher performance — and from the governor and state superintendent, who warned refusing to require standardized test scores in teacher evaluations could cost schools dearly.

The legislature didn't pass any of the bills to change the evaluations, and Washington state lost its waiver.

Spokane's poverty level means the school district relies a great deal on federal Title 1 funding. With the loss of the waiver, Spokane Public Schools will lose control of 20 percent of that funding, about $2 million. That money will now go to assist parents in sending their students to different schools if they choose and to private tutoring programs.

— DANIEL WALTERS

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