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Ante Up

Coeur d'Alene Public Schools will ask voters for a $15 million levy; plus, cracking down on jailhouse snitches

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Textbooks and Operations

Christa Hazel, board chair for COEUR D'ALENE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, walked into the board meeting Monday night expecting to approve a supplemental levy without an increase in funding.

But by the end, Hazel and the board voted to present the voters with a $15 million dollar levy — an increase of more than $2.2 million over current funding levels.

The facts, Hazel says, are what changed her mind. "I had a teacher last night in tears," Hazel said Tuesday morning. "She's in tears because she has an art class with no budget for supplies." Just to have materials, Hazel says, the students have to run fundraisers.

Some textbooks had become so tattered that students weren't allowed to take them home, and others — pushing 15 years old — have become vastly out of date with current curricula.

The levy would include funding for more materials, new textbooks and lower class sizes.

Like in Washington, Idaho schools have increasingly been forced to use levies to fund basic educational needs. But unlike Washington, Idaho doesn't have a court decision legally requiring its lawmakers to fund education at higher levels.

Trustee Tom Hearn's motion to increase the levy amount even higher to pay for district-wide full-day kindergarten was rejected by the rest of the board. But in the end, every trustee but Terri Seymour — who wanted to keep the levy at its current level — agreed to ask voters in March for $15 million. That's a little over a $160 annual property tax increase for people with $150,000 houses.

A school levy requires a lower margin of victory than a bond used for construction projects, but in tax-averse North Idaho, selling a tax increase is tricky. "It's always a challenge," Hazel says. "But I think it's a worthwhile challenge." (DANIEL WALTERS)

Unreliable Testimony

Inspired by a 2009 wrongful conviction case involving three Spokane Valley men, two Washington state lawmakers are planning to introduce companion legislation next session intended to keep criminal INFORMANT TESTIMONY out of court.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, have been working on their bipartisan bills with Duane Statler, the father of Paul Statler, who, along with two of his friends, was convicted in 2009 of robbing a couple of drug dealers. The only evidence against men was testimony from a jailhouse informant, who testified in exchange for a lighter sentence. In 2010, the Inlander examined the case and discovered evidence that the informant and his friend had pinned the crimes on someone else to protect themselves and the people who were actually involved. After spending four years behind bars, the three men's charges were finally dismissed in July 2013.

Padden and Riccelli's bills would conform Washington state law with higher federal standards regarding the use of informant and accomplice testimony in criminal proceedings.

"The folks lost four years of their life," Riccelli says. "The bottom line is one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction in our country is the issue of informant testimony, and our founding principles are based on a judicial system that will treat people fairly." (DEANNA PAN)

Down on Drones

In a new report, oversight inspectors found U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION drone border patrols overly costly and minimally effective, issuing a recommendation to abandon $443 million in new spending on the program. Border officials challenged those findings, saying inspectors did not recognize numerous achievements.

Homeland Security inspectors released their critical report last month, citing high maintenance costs, low flight hours and dubious benefits. Inspectors found the Border Protection's drone fleet costs close to $12,255 per hour of flight time, and contributed to less than 2 percent of apprehensions.

Most of the drone flights patrol the southern border, but officials have confirmed a drone crew out of Grand Forks, North Dakota, does patrol as far west as northeast Washington since 2008. In a news release, Border officials argue drones assisted with the seizure of thousands of pounds of marijuana and cocaine in addition to hundreds of illegal weapons.

Inspectors estimated the drone program cost $62.5 million in 2013, concluding another $443 million in proposed spending could be put to "better use." (JACOB JONES)

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