Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for February, 2013

UW scores DARPA grant add-on to boost soldier health

by February 28th, 2013

According to an announcement this week by the U.S. Department of Defense the University of Washington has won a $9.6 million modification to a “cooperative agreement” with a high-tech DoD special projects unit to advance its work on a system to let soldiers in the field self-collect biomarker-bearing substances such as semen, urine, saliva and hair, and swipe them onto cards sent to labs where they will be used to help diagnose possible health problems which can then be treated on the fly if needed with other advanced tools in development. Meanwhile, other U.S. military contracts sent the way of Washington state in this month alone are worth up to another $293 million. They are for unmanned drone support, a tactical equipment facility, food and radiology systems.

Explore latest K-12 achievement data with UW tool

by February 25th, 2013

Using the Google Public Data Explorer tool, we run two visualizations from recently-released 2012 data on percent of eighth graders meeting the Washington state achievement test passing standard in math, and reading, at 26 selected urban-region districts. In each case, half the districts exceed statewide average performance and half don’t. See custom charts, below. Top performers on the eighth-grade state math achievement test – among districts we examined – were Bellevue, Lake Washington, Port Angeles, Everett, and Olympia. The lowest performers for the same measure in 2012 were the East Valley district near Yakima, plus Yakima, Tacoma, Pasco and Longview. State academic achievement tests data for 2012 have recently been added to the user-friendly, interactive Washington Achievement Data Explorer (WADE) database operated by the Center for Education Data and Research (CEDR) at the University of Washington in Bothell. WADE is integrated with and can be explored using tools from Google Public Data Explorer.

At the WADE site, users can select school districts to compare for achievement test outcomes by grade and subject. Demographic data for each district, which is often correlated with outcomes, is also available. The data come from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Among other features, Google Public Data Explorer provides customized HTML embed code for each data set that is constructed by users. Following are two charts developed by Public Data Ferret using the WADE site.

First are eighth-grade “meeting the math standard” rates for the 26 selected urban-region school districts in Washington state, from 2006 through 2012. They are ranked on the right by 2012 outcomes, but by hovering over any district’s name, its seven-year history for the metric chosen can be tracked.

Next, for the same 26 districts, are the 2012 rankings and seven-year histories of percent of eighth graders meeting the state standard on the reading achievement test.

Public Data Ferret’s Education archive

By clicking on “Explore The Data” in the lower right-hand corner of either of the above charts, you can enter the WADE interface at Google Public Data Explorer and devise a customized report from the state data, choosing different measures and districts. You can also enter the WADE interface, with a tutorial through the the UW-Bothell/CEDR gateway.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Mercer Island Council Outlines Battle Plan Against I-90 Tolls

by February 24th, 2013

Admitting local state legislators have already warned their colleagues will likely approve electronic tolling on Interstate 90, Mercer Island City officials are still poised Monday night to approve a work plan to battle the move.

Council bill 4809 would OK an initial appropriation of $150,000 from the city’s $2.34 million general contingency fund to hire experts on the economic and traffic impacts to the well-off city of planned state tolling on I-90, plus federal and state lobbyists and a communications and government affairs consultant to fight the plan. Mercer Island has already engaged the high-powered Seattle law firm of K&L Gates, which recently completed a letter to the the Washington State Department of Transportation outlining what should be examined, and how, in the planned Environmental Assessment, or EA, on I-90 tolling.

Most Bridge Toll Violators Ignore Penalty Notices

by February 22nd, 2013

On the State Route 520 bridge and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge most drivers who ignore initial tolling fee bills sent through a process using mounted cameras and mailed notices are not moved to compliance after they receive a so-called Notice of Civil Penalty sent to them by the Washington State Department of Transportation. A report recently presented to the state legislature by WSDOT shows that from April though September of 2012, 170,800 or 76.8 percent of 222,300 NOCPs mailed to drivers on the two bridges were ignored. Additional data provided by the department at Public Data Ferret’s request show that 73,140 or 82.9 percent of 88,169 NOCPs issued from October through December were ignored.

The 243,940 ignored civil penalty notices tabulated for April through December of 2012 would represent almost $10 million, at $40 apiece, although processing fees can add to the cost for those who do comply. WSDOT emphasizes in its report to lawmakers that a stepped-up enforcement program for photo-toll fee scofflaws is scheduled to be fully implemented by the middle of 2013. It will include collection agency outreach, supplementing efforts already launched to deny annual vehicle license renewals for those who continue to leave their toll bills and penalty fees unpaid.

State details $352,000 public fraud in Lake Forest Park

by February 20th, 2013

The former Office Administrator of a sleepy public water district in a Seattle bedroom suburb allegedly embezzled at least $352,641 from taxpayer coffers from mid-2004 to early 2011 through misuse of multiple credit cards, unwarranted reimbursements and a mostly-fake payroller scheme involving three of her children, whom she also enrolled as beneficiaries in a state retirement system for public workers. Those findings and more about the Lake Forest Park Water District are detailed in a fraud report issued Tuesday by Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley. The former Office Administrator is identified by the auditor’s office as Jackee Zweekhorst. Zweekhorst, 40, of Bothell, was one of two higher-level employees for the district but reported only to an inattentive three-member board of supervisors. She kept the financial records under lock and key and effectively had no oversight, according to the fraud report.

Tumwater at odds with state on loans for failing golf course

by February 19th, 2013

A recently-issued report from Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley says the City of Tumwater is breaking state law by continuing to fund its money-losing golf course with revenues from its utility fund which are paid back so slowly the loans are a “permanent diversion” of taxpayer monies. The public facility owed nearly $2 million as of December but the city says it won’t change its practices because keeping the land open and green is crucial to connecting regional recreation assets, and the course will eventually see an uptick in revenues from hoped-for redevelopment of the adjacent Brewery District. Tumwater’s response stands in sharp contrast to that of two other Washington cities recently faced with similar audit findings about public golf courses beset by red ink. Lynnwood in Snohomish County is exploring contracting out the operation of its golf course or selling it, and Sumner in Pierce County says it will seek to sell its facility.

New report: State $1.4 billion shy for SR 167 extension

by February 18th, 2013

A new report to the legislature says Washington state is currently $1.43 billion short of what it would take to complete a crucial six-lane, six-mile partially-tolled extension of State Route 167 from Meridian Avenue in Puyallup across Interstate 5 to Port of Tacoma Road and State Route 509. According to the report just issued by the Washington State Department of Transportation, another $1.5 billion is needed for right-of-way purchases, securing permits and building the project, but only $65 million could be raised over 30 years through current plans to electronically toll one lane in each direction. Combined with a long laundry list of other road and transit needs statewide, the findings add to already considerable pressure for lawmakers to approve some sort of transportation funding package in Olympia this session.

How To Mine Open Access Science Journals, And Why

by February 17th, 2013

Open access to scientific research not only helps degreed experts collaborate in their own languages; it is a building block to a better informed citizenry. But capitalizing on its value to the broader society takes focus, effort, and support. Read more in our widely-shared analysis, “Open Access Out of the Shadows: Now What?”