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Noted: State's poor education ranking 

State education funding lags

A report conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Colorado second-to-last in the nation for state spending on education as a percentage of average personal income. During the 2006-07 school year, Colorado spent $34.35 on K-through-12 education for every $1,000 in personal income, ranking ahead of only Florida. The national average was $43.02.

"We should be embarrassed," says state Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs and chair of the House Education Committee.

Merrifield says Colorado has been at the bottom of the list for a while, something worth pointing out to those people who say that when it comes to education, it does no good to throw money at the problem. "The fact of the matter is," he says, "Colorado has never 'thrown more money at the problem.'"

He says Amendment 23, passed in 2000 to increase education spending, only restored spending to normal after TABOR "decimated" education between 1992 and 2000. He adds that research shows more funding does work: A presentation to his committee by a Denver-based school finance firm demonstrated a correlation between funding and success of at-risk students. — VL

Local art scene stunned by OpticalReverb founder's death

Funeral services for local art curator and founder of OpticalReverb Art Hub Jason Zacharias will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Manitou Springs Community Congregational Church, 103 Pawnee Ave.

Zacharias, 34, took his own life Monday, July 27, in Green Mountain Falls. The 34-year-old Kansas City, Mo., native had been active in the Springs scene since 2004.

Phantom Canyon manager Robin Hubbard worked closely with Zacharias over the past five years, while Zacharias curated wall space in the restaurant. Hubbard says Zacharias "orchestrated beautiful, vibrant and unique shows ... [he was] a visionary in the local art scene, and he had such firm, valid beliefs in the need to support local artists. He had a true talent for recognizing and appreciating the talents of others. He was one of a kind, and will be missed."

In September 2007, Zacharias told the Independent that after some 200 shows featuring nearly the same amount of artists, OpticalReverb had sold only 36 pieces of art. In many people's opinion, that sad statistic spoke more to a fickle buying market and lack of local support than to Zacharias' eye. And he continued to hang unique and creative shows and rally local artists.

On the Independent's Web site, a comment posted July 28 to an August 2006 article reads: "Sorry you left us — the community is poorer without you." That much is inarguable. — MS

Council now considers revised agreement

After months of revisions and renegotiations, the U.S. Olympic Committee's executive board has approved a new agreement with the city of Colorado Springs that would guarantee the USOC's presence here for another 30 years.

However, the deal could cost the city up to $16 million more than initially planned last year, unless private donations can cover some of that amount. The difference comes in paying for improvements to the Olympic Training Center complex, apparently in the form of certificates of participation.

The USOC board authorized its senior staff to finalize the deal, pending City Council approval. Council has scheduled a special meeting at 4 p.m. Friday, July 31, to hear a presentation on the revised agreement. The meeting is open to the public.

Council tentatively plans to vote Aug. 11 on the agreement. — RR

County sees swine flu death

El Paso County reported Wednesday that a woman in her 40s has become the county's first death "likely related" to the H1N1 flu. No other details were provided by the county's Department of Health and Environment about the woman, except that she died in a local hospital.

"We want the public to be aware that H1N1 flu can cause serious illness," Kandi Buckland, the county health director, said in a news release, "and it is important that our residents take steps to prevent the spread of H1N1 flu and to protect themselves and their families."

H1N1 flu, or swine flu, was given pandemic status last month, signifying that it had spread worldwide. For most in this county, H1N1 flu has not been serious, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported more than 300 deaths nationally.

"Since a vaccine specifically for novel H1N1 flu is not currently available, the best way for people to protect themselves is through the same public health steps that protect them from many other illnesses," Buckland said in the release. For more information, go to elpasocountyhealth.org or call the Colorado Help Line, 877/462-2911. — RR

Democrat plans clerk bid

It's been more than a decade in El Paso County since a Democrat has even run for county-wide office. Public Trustee Thomas Mowle has a simple reason why he thinks he can end that streak by becoming the county's clerk and recorder in 2010.

"I think El Paso County needs competent leadership," says Mowle, who expects to formally announce his candidacy Thursday, July 30. "That's what I do — I make things work."

County Treasurer Sandra Damron has announced plans to run on the Republican side, and Commissioner Wayne Williams is also considering a bid. The winner in 2010 will replace Bob Balink, who is term-limited.

Before he was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter in February 2008 as the county official who oversees foreclosures, Mowle served 20 years in the Air Force managing production and development of weapons systems before teaching political science at the Air Force Academy. Mowle became trustee as foreclosures surged into record territory, and says he has run the office "more like a business." He says now he wants to end the "partisan" tone from the clerk's office.

Mowle is upbeat about his chances, even if he faces Damron, who was unopposed in two general elections. — AL

City sees funding ideas

After more than a year of work, the Sustainable Funding Committee, charged with finding ways to mend the city budget in the long term, gave City Council a sneak peek Monday of its recommendations.

The presentation focused on potential future ballot questions, with suggestions ranging from creating separate taxing districts (kind of like mini-governments) to run parks, transit and the fire department to assessing a $5 a month "employment tax" on every working person in the city. Other ideas included increasing the vehicle registration fee, creating or increasing taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and cell phones, and eliminating certain tax exemptions given to non-501(c)3 nonprofits.

But SFC head Dan Stuart cautioned Council, saying, "I don't know that any of these are appropriate for November."

Councilors agreed, deciding it was best to hold off on SFC-recommended ballot questions for at least a year and concentrate instead on their own ideas. — JAS

No city renters fee

City Council shot down a plan this week to charge landlords $7.20 per unit per year, an effort envisioned to preserve what's left of the Code Enforcement Department.

Council felt the fees were unfair largely because landlords likely would pass the fee on to their renters, and landlords would have to pay even if they kept up their properties. It asked Ken Lewis, code enforcement supervisor, to dump his fee idea and instead consider increasing fines for violators.

Code Enforcement lost two employees, 20 percent of its staff, earlier this year. It investigates everything from bug infestations to sewage overflows to trash heaps on people's lawns. In June alone, Code Enforcement hauled 4.49 tons of garbage to the landfill. — JAS

County budget process starts

While El Paso County is not looking at major budget cuts for next year, Commissioner Dennis Hisey says the numbers will be tight as discussions begin July 30 to put together the 2010 spending plan.

"We think we've been sufficiently pessimistic in '09 that we'll be able to hold in '10," Hisey said.

Commissioners will first hear from department heads about "critical" extra funding needs at their meeting Thursday at the County Office Building, 27 E. Vermijo Ave. They plan to have a preliminary budget ready next week, and residents are welcome to comment at any meeting. — AL

UCCS may face ID theft

On July 5, two computers were stolen from a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor's home, one of which may have contained personal information on as many as 766 students. But, says Jerry Wilson, executive director of information technology at UCCS, most of that information would have been names and grades.

"I'm sure they weren't looking for this data," says Wilson, who laughs as he notes that the perpetrators of the robbery probably threw the computer away when they realized how old it was.

Still, the danger of identity theft is real. Until 2005, Social Security numbers were often used to sort and organize UCCS students on rosters. Because some students taught by the burgled professor attended classes as early as 2003, some Social Security numbers may have been preserved in the lost laptop's data banks.

Students whose information may have been contained in the computer have been notified by mail that data on them might be compromised. The letters list sources where students can work to protect their credit, assets and identities.

"We're playing it safe," Wilson says.

UCCS' information technology department is assisting campus police and the Colorado Springs Police Department in an investigation. No details about the professor have been released. — AM

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Virginia Leise, Avalon Manly, Ralph Routon, Matthew Schniper and J. Adrian Stanley.

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