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Idaho Gets an 'F'

New teacher evaluation process comes up woefully short in the Gem State; plus, more scrutiny for SPD's use of civil asset forfeiture funds

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INCOMPLETE ASSIGNMENTS

More than a year ago, Idaho legislators passed into law a plan to pay teachers more money through a "Career Ladder" program. Teachers, partially through a teacher evaluation process, would have to earn their bump in pay grade over time.

But now, the process to evaluate teachers has been called into question. An independently conducted AUDIT REPORT, obtained by Idaho Education News last week, found that in the 2014-15 school year, 99 percent of teacher evaluations that the report's authors collected were either inaccurate or incomplete.

"The findings suggest a need for greater focus on consistency and adherence to key components of the evaluation system," the report says.

The Idaho State Board of Education asked for the audit, which was finished in the summer of 2016, but not directly released to the public. The results have caused an uproar among some educators in Idaho, who argue that the audit findings are inaccurate and the state laws on teacher evaluations were confusing.

But the audit, Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra tells the Inlander, was only intended for "clarity moving forward," and has no connection to the Career Ladder regulations.

"I can't speak for other board members, but the audit is a blessing because it shows that we need more clarity and training," Ybarra says. "This audit was never intended to be an 'I gotcha.'"

She says that new requirements were in place for 2015-16, along with the adoption of the Career Ladder. An audit of the 2015-16 evaluations will be conducted and presented to the Legislature for the 2017 session.

The Idaho State Board of Education will meet this week to discuss the audit and its implications. Out of 225 evaluations audited in the state, only three had been completed correctly, according to the report.

In a memo sent to school district administrators throughout the state, Ybarra called on them to "stand tall, stand proud, and stand together" in response to the audit report.

"The report proves that you are not only working hard, but we all need further clarification as the expectations keep changing," Ybarra wrote. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

SHOW ME THE MONEY

The controversial practice of CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE in Washington state is attracting scrutiny in Spokane. This week, City Councilman Breean Beggs introduced a draft of an ordinance that would bring transparency and accountability to the Spokane Police Department's use of asset forfeiture funds.

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal process used throughout the country that gives law enforcement the authority to seize money and property they believe is linked to a crime. In Washington state, the cops can keep your stuff regardless of whether or not you're convicted of, or even charged with, a crime.

Additionally, the funds gained from forfeitures do not show up as a normal item in the city budget, meaning that police are free to distribute the funds as they please within guidelines set by state law. Beggs' proposed ordinance would require SPD to ask the city council for approval before spending forfeiture money.

"The reason it's important, aside from transparency, is that if the department wants to spend this money on something that doesn't make sense for the rest of the city, they have to come to us and ask," Beggs says. "You don't want any department to spend money that the public thinks is a waste."

Chief Craig Meidl says he has no problem reporting the department's use of those funds to the City Council.

SPD's civil forfeiture program has come under fire before — most recently in a whistleblower complaint filed by Lt. Joe Walker last year. In his draft ordinance, Beggs notes that the department has implemented new policies and ethical standards.

The amount of civil forfeiture funds SPD takes in annually averages about $200,000, though Beggs says he's seen that amount as high as $300,000. The money is spent on a variety of things from safety equipment to undercover drug buys, Beggs says.(MITCH RYALS)

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