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Whitewater Wreck 

State pulls funding for kayak park; counselors keep their jobs.

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STATE PULLS WHITEWATER PARK FUNDING

A half-million dollar grant to help develop a whitewater park in the Spokane River gorge has been cut off for “lack of substantial progress on the project,” a spokeswoman for the state Recreation and Conservation Office, or RCO, told The Inlander on Tuesday.

The state in 2008 had awarded Spokane Parks and Recreation a $536,000 grant for development of a whitewater kayaking park about a mile downstream from the Monroe Street falls. In the years since the award, the city has spent only $60,000 of the grant money, says Susan Zemek, communications manager for the RCO.

“They’ve had four years. And our board policy is that after four years we’ll terminate” if a grantee isn’t making any progress, Zemek says.

An Environmental Impact Study for the whitewater park is on hold until the grant funding issue is resolved, says Spokane’s recreation supervisor, Mike Aho.

The city is appealing the termination and will present arguments to the RCO board on the afternoon of June 23 in Olympia. The loss of the grant funding is a result of the state’s administrative review, not the reported presence of native redband trout spawning habitat within the proposed park’s footprint, Zemek says.

“We’ve heard about the trout through other sources. The city has not mentioned that to us yet,” Zemek says.

This spring, Avista released a study of redband spawning habitat from the falls to Nine Mile, identifying 58 habitat sites and 148 redds, the gravel nests where the trout lay eggs.

The most robust spawning site identified in the study was at the Sandifur Bridge, which spans the river at the first bend downstream from the falls. This is also the site for the proposed whitewater park. (Kevin Taylor)

COUNSELORS SAVED

Early in May, every Spokane Public Schools counselor without teaching credentials was laid off. But last Friday, all but 12 of the 55 counselors were notified they’d be hired back on. Counselors were recalled in order of seniority.

The Spokane Public School board was operating under the assumption that it would have to cut up to $12 million from its budget, due to lower state funding.

After finding savings elsewhere, the district decided the cuts wouldn’t come from the counselor positions.

“We’ve gone through the budget,” Staci Vesneske, assistant superintendent of Human Resources for Spokane Public Schools. “The board gave us direction to say, ‘No, they’re not going to eliminate the whole counseling program.’”

The board hasn’t settled on how it will trim its budget, but initial recommendations for saving money include suspending the mentor-teacher program, eliminating instructional coaches, reducing administrative salaries by 3 percent, eliminating several administrators and freezing non-essential travel. The possibility of increasing class size by up to three students remains.

But most of the counselor positions are safe.

“For us, at least, [counselors] helped a lot of students that would have had issues otherwise,” Vesneske says. “That’s it in a nutshell.” (Daniel Walters)

SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER

Students from Eastern Washington University and Washington State University are facing dramatic tuition increases, but at least their schools aren’t planning to close down anytime soon.

Students at Alpine College aren’t so lucky.

Instead of professors, students at the Spokane Valley vocational school were greeted on Monday morning with a sign simply stating, “Sorry for the inconvenience.

Alpine College is permanently closed for business.” No warning, no explanation, just canceled classes.

Students with questions about financial aid were urged to contact the “Washington State Department of Education” — a department that doesn’t actually exist.

In a statement released by the college, Alpine says it “has contacted other vocational schools in the area” and is working to transition students to those institutions.

All numbers provided for Alpine College have been disconnected. (Kaitlin Gillespie)

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