Education

Friday, September 6, 2019

D-11 refuses to release severance pay agreement with former facilities chief

Posted By on Fri, Sep 6, 2019 at 9:40 AM

Colorado Springs District 11 won't release severance agreements. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Colorado Springs District 11 won't release severance agreements.
Six months after Colorado Springs School District 11 handed one of its top officials a raise, the district sent him packing — with severance pay, records show.

Scott Lewis, executive director of facilities, operations and transportation, earned a job performance rating of "exemplary" in June 2018, but was placed on paid administrative leave from Jan. 2 through Jan. 31.

The Jan. 9 school board agenda reports his departure as a resignation, effective Jan. 31, for "personal" reasons, but when the Independent asked for his resignation letter, the district said, "No such document exists."

The district paid Lewis $15,477 for the one-month leave in January, as well as $3,119 for district benefits such as health insurance, under a severance agreement, according to data released by the district. But D-11 refuses to release or discuss the agreement itself.

D-11 public information officer Devra Ashby, declined to comment but provided a statement:
Personnel matters are reviewed by the Board of Education during closed executive sessions. Severance pay for an exiting employee is determined on a case by case basis after a Human Resources review process, in consultation with the Superintendent. The District refrains from commenting on specific individuals.
Asked about that on Sept. 5, Board President Jim Mason called withholding the document "stupid" and promised to check into it. He later called the Indy, saying, "We're going to straighten this out, so stand by for more information."

Meantime, Lewis says he left because his job was completed. "From my perspective," Lewis told the Indy in a Sept. 5 interview outside his rural El Paso County home, "I did a lot of heavy lifting for my boss [CFO Glenn Gustafson], who is a stellar supervisor. He hired me as a change agent. From my perspective, I completed what he wanted me to do. I don't have anything to add." That work, he said, was to staff up to handle projects funded through a mill levy override approved by voters in November 2017.

Lewis joined the district on Aug. 13, 2015, and scored at least two pay raises during his tenure. His pay history:
2015-16 school year: $103,969
2016-17 school year: $108,617
2017-18 school year: $116,252
2018-19 school year (partial, through January): $76,393

Gustafson ranked Lewis as "exemplary" in job evaluations in June 2016 and June 2018. For the intervening year, in June 2017, Lewis received a rating of "effective — Meets expected performance." Gustafson didn't respond to an interview request submitted to Ashby.

(In addition to Lewis, D-11 awarded severance pay to three teachers and a principal over the last year, totaling $86,337, according to data provided by the district, though it withheld the severance agreements.)

In response to the Indy's Aug. 23 records request, D-11's custodian of records Katherine Ritchie Rapp cited a portion of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) she contends allows severance agreements to remain secret.

CORA "does not require we provide copies of severance agreements, only amount paid or benefit provided incident to termination of employment," Ritchie, director of archives and records, wrote.

CORA allows certain information, such as addresses and phone numbers of public employees to remain private, but allows the release of records that include "applications of past or current employees, employment agreements, any amount paid or benefit provided incident to termination of employment, performance ratings, final sabbatical reports ..., or any compensation, including expense allowances and benefits, paid to employees by the state, its agencies, institutions, or political subdivisions."

D-11's stance on severance agreements is in sharp contrast to that of other local agencies:

• In March 2019, El Paso County released a waiver and release agreement with longtime former budget director and Deputy County Administrator Nicola Sapp, who was paid $150,628 upon her departure on March 19.

• In May 2018, Harrison School District 2 disclosed a severance agreement in which it agreed to pay former Superintendent Andre Spencer $250,000 to end his contract agreement.

• In early 2017, the city of Colorado Springs released the severance agreement for former Stormwater Manager Tim Mitros, who was paid $58,525 to retire effective Jan. 13, 2017.

• In March 2016, the city disclosed a severance agreement with former Fire Chief Christopher Riley in which the city agreed to pay him $80,000, or six months salary, to leave.

• In March 2016, the city released its severance agreement with former Police Commander Fletcher Howard. He received six months' pay, or $59,308; $7,917 in unused vacation time, which is required by law to be paid, and $41,059 paid into Howard's retirement health savings account in accordance with the city's policy for converting unused sick time to cash for retiring ranking officers. The agreement also required that, "Employee will be given a retirement ceremony which will be held on February 16, 2016."

• In November 2013 and January 2014, the city agreed to pay a total of $139,138 to departing city attorney Chris Melcher in severance pay, consulting fees and outside legal fees paid to negotiate Melcher's agreement.

Tellingly, the city noted in at least two of those agreements: "All parties acknowledge the City is subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (“CORA”)."
District 11's headquarters. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • District 11's headquarters.
Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, notes that under CORA, all records made, maintained or kept by the school district for their use in the exercise of functions authorized by law are public records absent a specific statutory exemption. Among the records that must not be disclosed are “personnel files,” but the definition of personnel files in CORA specifically excludes “any amount paid or benefit provided incident to termination of employment,” he says.

So while CORA requires a records custodian to deny inspection of personnel files, the definition of personnel files excludes severance payments.

"So it’s saying the public is entitled to inspect those particular records," Roberts says.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Colorado College makes big move to help in-state students afford school

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2019 at 9:00 PM

COURTESY COLORADO COLLEGE
  • Courtesy Colorado College
Colorado College has launched a new program meant to help middle- and low-income families pay college tuition.

The program, called Colorado Pledge, provides assistance for Colorado households making less than $200,000 a year, starting with the class of new students arriving in 2020.

For most students from families with an adjusted gross income of less than $60,000 annually, tuition, room and board at Colorado College will be free.

For students whose parents make between $60,000 and $125,000, parents are expected to pay for room and board only.

Finally, households making between $125,000 and $200,000 will be expected to pay “the same or less than the cost of attendance at the flagship state university in Colorado.”

For reference, tuition at Colorado College for the 2019-20 school year amounted to nearly $58,000. At the University of Colorado Boulder, in-state tuition was close to $29,000.
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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cripple Creek-Victor school board recall election date set, for president only

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2019 at 12:29 PM

Board President Tim Braun. - STACIE GONZALEZ
  • Stacie Gonzalez
  • Board President Tim Braun.
After the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Cripple Creek-Victor School District board president, a recall election is moving forward and slotted for Nov. 5, the same day as the towns' general election.

Hear Us: For Better Schools, the group seeking to overhaul the school board, originally set out to recall School Board President Tim Braun, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin. But Jones and Martin both resigned in June.

Braun, on the other hand, petitioned the Supreme Court to review an earlier case in 4th Judicial District Court, in which targeted school board members had asked the judge to invalidate the recall election.

According to the Mountain Jackpot News, Braun and Jones had argued in that case that the Teller County Clerk & Recorder's office shouldn't have allowed Hear Us extra time to collect signatures for the recall election, after they initially fell short of having enough valid signatures. Judge Scott Sells ruled against the school board members.

The Supreme Court denied to hear Braun's appeal of that case Aug. 8. As of Aug. 22, the recall election was still moving forward for Nov. 5, with Braun's name alone on the ballot, Teller County Chief Deputy Clerk Stephanie Kees confirmed.

Hear Us, the group behind the recall, claims the targeted school board members violated state statutes and district policies. Braun, Jones and Martin have all denied wrongdoing.
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City introduces draft historic preservation plan

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2019 at 10:11 AM

A mid-20th century postcard depicting The Antlers hotel (in its second iteration). The building, which replaced The Antlers hotel that burned down in 1898, was torn down in 1964. - BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • Boston Public Library
  • A mid-20th century postcard depicting The Antlers hotel (in its second iteration). The building, which replaced The Antlers hotel that burned down in 1898, was torn down in 1964.

Colorado Springs residents first mobilized to preserve the city's historic character in the 1950s, notes the city's new HistoricCOS draft plan.

When a 14-story hospital was proposed at the northern edge of the Old North End neighborhood, at North Cascade Avenue and Madison Street, residents successfully opposed the construction in an effort to maintain the character of their community.

The original First National Bank Building, The Antlers hotel and Ute Theater buildings were not so lucky — these historic properties were demolished around the same time, according to HistoricCOS.

The 80-page draft plan (presented to City Council at a work session Aug. 12) chronicles some of the city's historic preservation efforts over the years, and provides a blueprint of sorts for how city government and elected leaders should work to preserve the city's character into the future.

"Colorado Springs will be a community knowledgeable about preserving its unique history and cultural heritage," the plan's vision statement reads. "We will be a community proud of its past and ready to share its heritage story with residents and visitors. We will actively protect and utilize our irreplaceable historic and cultural resources as part of our ongoing economic and community development strategy."

The city's effort to update the last historic preservation plan from 1993 started in late 2017. A team of consultants led by Stan Clauson Associates (a landscape architecture, planning and resort design firm) met with neighborhood organizations and other groups, and asked community members what they'd like to see in terms of preservation.

The $60,650 project was funded mostly through grants, including $29,900 from the State Historical Fund.

The draft plan still has a ways to go before it's finalized. Staff will present it to the Planning Commission in September, and once again to Council in September or October.

Like PlanCOS and neighborhood master plans, HistoricCOS doesn't explicitly commit Council to funding certain initiatives, but it does provide a vision for how to preserve the past as the city grows.

In that vein, the plan lays out a series of recommended tasks for the city. Here are just a few:

- Survey the public on which properties should receive historic designation.
- Determine which city-owned properties are historic (normally buildings that are at least 50 years old, and meet other criteria) and institute a documentation system so that the city can add new properties as they're acquired, or as properties age.
- Expand historic overlay zones, which require new development in those zones to meet certain design requirements.

The city will host an open house 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Colorado Springs Pioneer's Museum, located at 215 S. Tejon St., with a meet-and-greet, presentation and Q&A session on the draft plan.
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Friday, August 9, 2019

Gannett and GateHouse plan to merge, creating newspaper mega-group

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2019 at 3:59 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
New Media Investment Group, the holding company that owns New York-based GateHouse Media, plans to acquire Gannett, the media companies announced Aug. 5.  Given that GateHouse and Gannett are the two largest newspaper chains in the country, the move has potential to change the face of local news — for better or worse.

"I'd love to say the mega-merger financed by private equity is likely to mean more investment in local journalism with new hires filling more beats, expanded circulation, and deeper coverage of their communities, but I doubt that's going to happen, at least in the short term," Corey Hutchins, the Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review's United States Project, writes in an emailed statement.

"This is just where we are now in an era of hedge-fund journalism."

Colorado's GateHouse papers include the Pueblo Chieftain and La Junta Tribune-Democrat (dailies), as well as the Fowler Tribune and Bent County Democrat (weeklies).

Virginia-based Gannett, the group behind the USA Today national newspaper, counts the Fort Collins Coloradan among its many brands.

The combined companies — which will collectively own more than 260 daily newspapers, and more than 300 weeklies — will go by the name Gannett, the New York Times reports.

"Uniting our talented employees and complementary portfolios will enable us to expand our comprehensive, hyperlocal coverage for consumers, deepen our product offering for local businesses, and accelerate our shift from print-centric to dynamic multimedia operations," said Michael Reed, chairman and CEO of New Media Investment Group, who was quoted in a statement.

Both companies laid off employees this year. In May, GateHouse layoffs amounted to about 200 people out of its 11,000 staff, including two at the Pueblo Chieftain. Gannett laid off dozens in January, according to media reports, though an exact number was undetermined.


The layoffs and impending merger — which many fear will bring more layoffs — reflect an industry struggling to remain financially viable.

“Since GateHouse bought The Pueblo Chieftain the paper suffered cuts. Its journalists were protesting in the streets this summer," writes Hutchins, who is also a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a journalist at the Colorado Independent. "Earlier this year, Gannett's nationwide layoffs lashed the Coloradoan in Fort Collins and the paper scrap-heaped its weekly Opinion section to cut costs. Now these two companies are conglomerating. Great."

To Hutchins and other media observers, the industry's prospects often look grim.

A University of North Carolina study found the U.S. lost nearly 1,800 newspapers between 2004 and 2018.

And newsroom employment overall decreased by 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, the Pew Research Center found. The number of newspaper newsroom employees decreased even more — 47 percent.

In May, GateHouse planned to hire an entry-level reporter at the Chieftain for $13.41 an hour ($27,892 per year). The median annual salary for reporters and correspondents across the industry was $41,260 in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Meanwhile, the new CEO of the combined companies, Paul Bascobert, will receive $3.9 million in Gannett stock and a sign-on bonus of $600,000, above his $725,000 salary, according to Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times.
According to the joint statement, the companies intend to cut costs by $250 to $300 million annually as a result of the merger. That's "not good news" for newspapers that "already have been cut to the bone," tweeted Eric Lipton of the New York Times.


Gannett and GateHouse already each have their "design hubs," which centralize design operations for local newsrooms around the country. (Disclosure: This reporter worked at Gannett's Phoenix design hub for two four-month internships.)

Presumably, by consolidating such hubs and other parts of their operations, the companies could save on overhead.

"I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better," Hutchins says. "Whatever happens to these newspapers after this deal, though, I hope they remain honest with their readers about it. I hope they let readers know the reasons why the way the papers are producing the news is changing instead of pretending it isn't happening or dressing up their own bad news in corporate Newspeak.

"I hope they bring their local readers into this conversation about one of the most challenging realities of our time. I also hope I'm totally wrong about all of this.”
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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gov. Polis signs final bills into law, announces five vetoes

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5.

At a June 3 appearance in Colorado Springs, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said this year's legislative session delivered victories for health care and education.

He emphasized that 95 percent of the 454 bills he signed "were bipartisan: Republicans and Democrats working together to make Colorado better."

Polis vetoed five bills on May 31, three of which concerned state occupational licensing requirements. The vetoes drew consternation from lawmakers in Polis' own party, including Rep. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge. Duran sponsored House Bill 1212, which would have extended a program requiring managers of homeowners associations, or HOAs, to have state licenses.

“We are greatly disappointed that the work we have done to protect homeowners’ biggest investments in their lifetime — their homes — has been undone," Duran said via a statement from the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Colorado Legislative Action Committee. CAI is an international membership organization for homeowners, HOA managers and businesses that provide services for HOAs.
"Managers of HOAs will no longer have to be licensed, which means they are not required to have background checks, demonstrate any knowledge of core competencies, show they understand Colorado HOA law or get continuing education," Duran continued.

On the other hand, Polis' vetoes drew rare approval from some conservatives.

“Governor Polis is right to veto legislation that makes it harder for Coloradans to find work," said Jesse Mallory, the state director of libertarian and conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Mallory was quoted in a statement from the group.

"Too often occupational licenses—government permission slips to work—are misused to protect entrenched interests, slamming the door on the dreams of would-be entrepreneurs," he added.

With his veto statement, Polis issued an executive order directing the Department of Regulatory Agencies to review existing and potential laws around HOAs and their managers, and recommend strategies for "efficient and effective" regulation.

"Before any unregulated occupation is to be regulated, or any regulated occupation is to be continued, the state should complete its due diligence to ensure that regulation will, in fact, ensure consumer safety in a cost-efficient manner," Polis wrote in his veto letter. "This bill does not meet that threshold."

Similarly, Polis vetoed Senate Bills 99 and 133, which would have required licenses for sports agents and genetic counselors. Both bills were sponsored by Democrats.

"Licensing in the United States over the years has at times prevented minorities and the economically disadvantaged from having the ability to access occupations," Polis wrote.

He also vetoed Senate Bill 169, which would have made changes to the budget submission process for information technology projects, saying that it limited the governor's ability to manage state contracts.

House Bill 1305 would have given tribal governments access to state databases for conducting background checks in child welfare cases. In his veto letter, Polis said the bill contained errors that would have forced tribes to comply with state child protection requirements. So in place of the bill, he issued an executive order allowing tribal governments access to the state databases while leaving out those mandates.

"In Colorado, we respect our government-to-government relationship with the Tribes," Polis wrote. "We also are committed to making resources available to assist the Tribes in conducting their governmental responsibilities."

In other news, here's some highlights from the list of bills Polis recently signed.

EDUCATION

House Bill 1032: "Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education" appropriates money ($1 million annually) for the state’s grant program for schools that want to add comprehensive sexual education, closes a loophole that allowed private contractors to collect government money for teaching abstinence-only classes in public schools and ends an exemption for charter schools to the requirements. It also prohibits schools that have sex ed courses from teaching religious ideology, using shame-based or stigmatizing language, employing gender stereotypes, or excluding the experiences of LGBT individuals.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Sens. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Don Coram, R-Montrose
House Bill 1110: "Media Literacy" creates an advisory committee to make recommendations for ways to teach K-12 students how to read news critically, and discern fake news from the real thing. It allocates $19,800 from the state's general fund to the Department of Education for this purpose.
  • Sponsors: Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Evergreen, and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood
Senate Bill 007: “Prevent Sexual Misconduct At Higher Ed Campuses” requires higher education campuses to adopt policies on sexual misconduct based on minimum requirements set out in the bill. It provides for oversight and requires training on the policies.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Pettersen and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Janet Buckner, D-Aurora

LGBT RIGHTS

House Bill 1039: "Identity Documents For Transgender Persons" makes it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to change the gender on their birth certificates (without court order, surgery or doctor recommendation).
  • Sponsors: Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City
House Bill 1129: "Prohibit Conversion Therapy for A Minor" prevents licensed mental health and medical professionals from attempting to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation through therapy. Democrats, who won control of the Senate last fall, were finally able to pass this bill on the fifth annual attempt.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Esgar, and Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder

HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT

House Bill 1176: The "Health Care Cost Savings Act of 2019" creates a task force to analyze the costs of alternative health care financing systems, such as single-payer, and make a report to state legislators. Polis signed the bill, but noted his concern that the bill's appropriation (around $100,000) wouldn't be enough to hire an analyst. He directed the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to let him know in October whether legislators should request more money next session.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette
House Bill 1279: "Protect Public Health Firefighter Safety Regulation PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances" bans firefighting foam that contains certain toxic, man-made chemicals: those classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. (An amendment to the bill makes an exception for when PFAS-containing foam is "required for a military purpose.") The bill also requires manufacturers to disclose when personal protective equipment contains PFAS.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, and Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Dennis Hisey, R-Colorado Springs
Senate Bill 077: "Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services" requires public utilities to facilitate charging stations and to support the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver

COURTS AND PUBLIC SAFETY

House Bill 1324: "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" adds protections against lawsuits viewed by First Amendment advocates, media organizations and others at infringing upon free speech. Specifically, it allows defendants accused of libel or slander to ask a judge to dismiss a civil case on the grounds that they were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech or to petition the government.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Cutter and Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, and Sen. Foote
Senate Bill 179: "Enhance School Safety Incident Response Grant Program" adds funding to an existing state program, which funds nonprofit-led school safety training for law enforcement and school districts. The bill appropriates $1.16 million to the Department of Public Safety for the program.
  • Sponsors: Sen. Lee and Rep. James Wilson, R-Salida
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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo prepares to welcome another baby giraffe

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 5:51 PM

Msitu was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2009. She's due to give birth soon to her third calf. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Msitu was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2009. She's due to give birth soon to her third calf.

Less than a week after Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's two-toed sloth Chalupa had her first baby, the zoo announced it has another pregnant mammal in its midst: Msitu, a 10-year-old reticulated giraffe, is due to give birth sometime in the next couple of months.

Msitu has already given birth to two healthy calves. Emy, 5, now lives at Peoria Zoo in Illinois, and 2-year-old Rae is currently the youngest member of the herd at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Msitu bred with 11-year-old Khalid last April, which means she'll likely give birth sometime in June or July (giraffe pregnancies are 14-15 months).

You can try guessing the exact date, hour and minute Msitu will give birth at cmzoo.org/guess to win a "behind-the-scenes animal encounter" with the giraffe herd, zookeepers announced May 21.

Giraffe keepers and veterinarians will also provide weekly updates about Msitu's pregnancy on the zoo's Facebook page.

“Giraffe calves can be fragile, so we try to encourage people to be realistic about the risks while they enjoy the excitement of the hope we know giraffe calves bring to so many,” says African Rift Valley animal care manager Jason Bredahl, who was quoted in a statement from the zoo. “We’re optimistic that advances in medicine, like the availability of giraffe plasma and stem cell treatments, will help us navigate any medical needs the calf may have.”

Last summer, the zoo euthanized giraffe calf Penny just two months after mom Muziki gave birth to her. She faced an infection and dislocated hip that zookeepers and veterinarians determined would keep her from having a good quality of life.

While you eagerly wait for the zoo's live-streaming giraffe "birth cam" to activate on May 28, here's another cute sloth pic:

Chalupa bonds with her new baby. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Chalupa bonds with her new baby.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Baby sloth born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 4:37 PM

We feel like "Junior" is a pretty good nickname for this wee creature. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • We feel like "Junior" is a pretty good nickname for this wee creature.
Big news from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Two-toed sloth Chalupa gave birth to an adorable baby sloth at 12:15 p.m. on May 15.

"The baby appears to be strong, and first-time mom, 19-year-old Chalupa, is exhibiting quality maternal instincts," the zoo notes in a statement.

Before discovering Chalupa was pregnant during an unrelated check-up, zookeepers had no idea that Chalupa and the baby daddy, 27-year-old Bosco, were even into each other. They lived together four years and had showed no signs of breeding, but they apparently kept their relationship on the down-low.

Chalupa and "Junior" just chilling out. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Chalupa and "Junior" just chilling out.

“Sloths are famously adored for their slow-motion lifestyles,” Joanna Husby, Monkey Pavilion animal care manager, is quoted as saying. “Even successful breeding and conception can take longer for sloth parents than other animals. This baby was worth the wait, though."

The baby's gender won't be known for months, and there's no immediate plans to name the young sloth. Chalupa and baby are visible to guests in the Monkey Pavilion, but they're staying in an exhibit with a little more privacy, separate from the main sloth hangout over guests' path. They'll join Bosco in the main exhibit in a few months.

Here's a cute video of Mom and baby snuggling:

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Gov. Polis travels to Colorado Springs, Pueblo for bill signings

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2019 at 11:21 AM

Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4. - DEREK KUHN
  • Derek Kuhn
  • Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4.

After stopping in Pueblo to sign several health care and agriculture-related bills, Gov. Jared Polis will visit Centennial Elementary School in Colorado Springs on May 14 to sign three bills passed by the state Legislature.

They include:

House Bill 1013: Sponsored by Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, this bill extends through 2028 the state's existing tax credit for child care expenses to low-income families, equal to 25 percent of child care expenses for taxpayers with a federal adjusted gross income of $25,000 or less. The credit is capped at $500 for a single dependent or $1,000 for two or more dependents.

Senate Bill 176: "Expanding Concurrent Enrollment Opportunities" — sponsored by Sens. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village — requires school districts to offer opportunities for qualified high school students to enroll in college-level classes that can be applied to both a high school degree and a college degree. They may include academic courses, career and technical education, or apprenticeship and internship programs.

House Bill 1147: "Revise Traumatic Brain Injury Program" makes changes to the Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund, which provides services for people with brain injuries and funds research and education. Currently, the fund receives revenue from surcharges on DUI convictions, speeding and not wearing a helmet. The bill increases the surcharge assessed for speeding convictions, and expands the types of brain injuries that can be treated, among other changes. The bill's sponsors include two El Paso County Democrats, Rep. Marc Snyder and Sen. Pete Lee.

The bill signing at Centennial Elementary, located at 1860 Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. May 14.

Before that, Polis plans to sign House Bill 1132, "School Incentives to Use Colorado Food and Producers," at Milberger Farms in Pueblo at 2 p.m.

He'll also sign House Bill 1174, "Out-of-Network Health Care Services," and House Bill 1326, "Rates for Senior Low-Income Dental Program," at 1 p.m. at Pueblo Community Health Center.

Polis' first stop in Pueblo is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Crossroads Treatment Clinic, where he'll sign four bills:

• Senate Bill 174, "Dependent Tuition Assistance Program Eligibility";
• Senate Bill 001, "Expand Medication-assisted Treatment Pilot Program";
• Senate Bill 065, "Peer Assistance Emergency Medical Service Provider";
• House Bill 1287, "Treatment for Opioids And Substance Use Disorders."
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

University of Colorado faces backlash over presumed pick for president

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 2:16 PM

For nearly three years, Mark Kennedy has served as president of the University of North Dakota, but he made a name for himself as a Congressman in Minnesota. - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Public domain
  • For nearly three years, Mark Kennedy has served as president of the University of North Dakota, but he made a name for himself as a Congressman in Minnesota.

Since the University of Colorado Board of Regents named Mark Kennedy as the only finalist for the position of president of CU’s four-campus system (which includes local UCCS), blowback has been monumental. On April 14, a group of CU stakeholders including professors, students, community members and more — more than 4,500 people total — released an open letter to the Board of Regents condemning their choice.

Why? Because Mark Kennedy, former Republican member of Congress, has a voting record that seemingly goes against values CU ostensibly supports. This open letter reads, in part:

Colorado’s reputation as an open and inclusive place to live, work, and study would be damaged by the choice of Mr. Kennedy as President of the University of Colorado. As a member of Congress, Mr. Kennedy voted against stem cell research and against grants for colleges serving Black and Latinx students, and he voted twice against marriage equality. This record runs contrary to the Regents’ commitment to cutting-edge research and to “building a community of students, faculty, and staff in which diversity is a fundamental value.”

A protest was held on the CU-Boulder campus on April 15, and demonstrations will likely continue as Kennedy plans visits to CU campuses throughout the week of April 22. United Mexican American Students y Movimiento Estudiantil Chincanx de Azlán and CU Young Democratic Socialists of America have begun planning a major demonstration on April 26, when Kennedy is slated to appear at CU-Boulder. A comprehensive Facebook page has even been created: CU Against Kennedy, encouraging use of the hashtags #studentsagainstkennedy and #CUagainstkennedy.

Kennedy’s seemingly imminent appointment has even gotten the attention of a major nonprofit organization. On April 18, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains released a statement from its CEO Vicki Cowart, in opposition to Kennedy. “I am alarmed by a litany of his congressional votes on civil rights,” Cowart’s statement says. “Congressman Kennedy voted yes on increasing federal funding for health care providers that refuse to provide or even refer patients for abortion care, voted yes on banning family planning funding for providers abroad who counsel patients on abortion options, and has been a full-throated supporter of the extremist anti-choice movement.”

The statement also mentions his record on same-sex marriage, pointing out that he cosponsored a “Marriage Protection Amendment” during his time in office.

"His background does not rise to the level of president of Colorado’s flagship university that values diversity, human rights, academic research, science, and educational freedom of thought,” Cowart says. “The regents should vote no."
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Cripple Creek-Victor School District board recall effort will move forward

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2019 at 3:35 PM

STACIE GONZALEZ
  • Stacie Gonzalez
An effort to recall three members of the Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 board has turned in enough valid signatures for a special election, Teller County Chief Deputy Clerk Stephanie Kees confirmed April 17.

The recall effort, led by the group Hear Us (See Cover, Feb. 27), faced a hurdle when the Teller County Clerk and Recorder's office identified a shortfall of more than 200 valid petition signatures. The recall petitions required at least 400 signatures per school board member, but many of those originally submitted in March were rejected for various reasons. The clerk's office gave Hear Us until April 10 to gather the remaining signatures.

The three targeted school board members — Board President Tim Braun, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin — have until May 2 to protest the election, Kees says. But they can only protest on the grounds that Hear Us does not have enough valid signatures or that the ballot summary language is more than 200 words. (Kees says the clerk's office has confirmed that the signatures are valid and the summary adheres to word limits. However, a hearing would be held in the case that the board members choose to protest anyway.)

Barring a successful protest, the recall election must be held within 60 days after the protest period has passed, Kees says. 
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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mr. Trans Colorado Springs suffers injuries in alleged hate crime

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2019 at 2:56 PM

Emmit Davis suffered injuries in an attack he says was motivated by anti-transgender bias. - COURTESY EMMIT DAVIS
  • Courtesy Emmit Davis
  • Emmit Davis suffered injuries in an attack he says was motivated by anti-transgender bias.
A transgender man widely known by his drag king persona, Axel G. Roze, suffered a broken nose and orbital fracture in an April 6 attack outside his home, which city police are investigating as a hate crime.

A GoFundMe page seeks to raise $2,000 to cover health costs for Emmit Davis, who was recently awarded the title of Mr. Trans Colorado Springs. As of April 11, the campaign had raised nearly $1,300 to help pay for Davis's emergency room and ambulance fees, as well as screenings for further damage.

Despite his injuries, Davis still plans to perform at 3 p.m. on April 13 at the Zodiac Music Venue and Bar for an all-ages Drag Story Time event.

The Colorado Springs Police Department investigated and confirmed five hate crimes motivated by bias against gay, bisexual and/or transgender people between 2016 and 2018. All occurred in 2016.

Those crimes accounted for 14 percent of the 35 confirmed hate crimes police investigated during the same time period. Last year, 12 hate crimes were confirmed by police, including 10 motivated by racial bias and two motivated by religious bias. Police confirmed eight total hate crimes in 2017 and 15 in 2016.
Davis as his drag king persona, Axel G. Roze, before he was attacked. - COURTESY EMMIT DAVIS
  • Courtesy Emmit Davis
  • Davis as his drag king persona, Axel G. Roze, before he was attacked.
"We treat these [hate crime cases] at a very high level," says police spokesperson Lt. Howard Black. "Our intelligence unit has responsibility for these cases, so they’re something that we put a tremendous amount of investigative energy into. It’s just not acceptable in our city."

In a public Facebook post April 9, Davis said:

"For my community and anyone whose watching..... Our stance our fight has just begun. But I truly need y'all to remember, we are fighting so strongly to be seen as human please do NOT forget our oppressors are human too. Don't forget that we cannot fill ourselves with the same hate guys, or nothing will change. We are and always will be a strong community that's more united and more supportive than any community I have ever witnessed and it's truly amazing so as a community let's show that we don't want to spread more hate. There is nothing in this world that says because I'm trans or because [you're] gay we aren't human, so let's remind people that humanity wasn't meant to be perfect it was meant to be messy, we don't have a cookie cutter to follow. All eyes are on us. Let's give em hell!"
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bill would give "Dreamers" a path to citizenship

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 5:50 PM

"Dreamer" Oscar Guerrero-Olivares (right) was arrested by ICE agents in January. - COURTESY OF THE GUERRERO-OLIVARES FAMILY
  • Courtesy of the Guerrero-Olivares family
  • "Dreamer" Oscar Guerrero-Olivares (right) was arrested by ICE agents in January.
Colorado has more than 17,000 "Dreamers" — people who entered the country illegally as children — who've received temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program since it was implemented in 2012 through an executive order by President Barack Obama.

They account for about 1.9 percent of the country's Dreamers with DACA status, all of whom have been left in limbo since then.

While several court injunctions remain in place to require the federal government to keep processing DACA renewals — necessary every two years — the administration of President Donald Trump halted new applications in September of 2017, and sought to terminate the program altogether.

A piece of legislation championed by House Democrats would provide Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship, though it has almost zero possibility of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate or of being signed into law by Trump.


The Dream and Promise Act of 2019, introduced March 12, would provide up to 10 years of conditional permanent residence status for Dreamers who met certain criteria. It would also grant lawful permanent residence to people with Temporary Protected Status (2,900 in Colorado alone, according to the Immigration Hub) and Deferred Enforced Departure designations, meaning they cannot return to their countries due to unsafe conditions.


Among the bill's other objectives, according to a fact sheet from the Immigration Hub, an advocacy organization:

• Cancel deportation proceedings for Dreamers who meet certain requirements and background checks.
• Grant lawful permanent residence to Dreamers who pursue higher education, join the military or meet employment requirements.
• Allow Dreamers to receive federal financial aid, as well as professional, commercial and business licenses.
• Allow certain Dreamers deported under the Trump administration to apply for relief from abroad.
• Cancel deportation proceedings for people with TPS and DED status who have been in the U.S. at least three years, for people who had TPS or were eligible on Sept. 25, 2016, and for people who had DED status on Sept. 28, 2016.

If this bill has no chance of becoming law, why is it important? Vox argues "it’s a statement of the Democratic consensus on immigration" that will be important if Republicans try to pass their own immigration bill, and as presidential candidates set their priorities for 2020.
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Friday, February 8, 2019

Backpack Challenge to raise awareness around homelessness

Posted By on Fri, Feb 8, 2019 at 9:55 AM

COURTESY OF DONNA WINTZ
  • Courtesy of Donna Wintz
In honor of International Random Acts of Kindness Week, local nonprofits are challenging Colorado Springs residents to walk a mile (or any distance, really) in their homeless neighbor's shoes.

But walking around homeless usually means hauling around more than the clothes on your back and shoes on your feet. If you don't have a car, or a safe place for your stuff, you're probably carrying all of your personal belongings with you, too.

That's the premise of the Backpack Challenge, which runs from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15. Participants are encouraged to wear a backpack for a day while they walk around Colorado Springs, then share their experience on social media, with the goal of promoting empathy and raising awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people in our community.


According to the event announcement, the idea was born when Donna Wintz, a volunteer for Westside Cares, was walking in Old Colorado City wearing a backpack. She noticed that some residents looked suspicious or disdainful as she passed.

“I think criminal activity in the city has homeowners on edge,” the announcement quotes Wintz as saying. “I understand the caution, but I don’t like my first interaction with a stranger to be negative, as if I am assumed a criminal simply because I’m wearing a backpack.”

Wintz spoke with Kristy Milligan, the CEO of nonprofit Westside Cares, about launching a campaign around the idea to coincide with International Random Acts of Kindness Week.

“There is tremendous need for caring services and housing in our community,” Milligan says in the announcement. “But the single greatest need is for a collective, community-wide commitment to seeing our neighbors in need as they actually are: our brothers and sisters.”

Other nonprofits promoting the challenge include Ecumenical Social Ministries, Urban Peak Colorado Springs, Homeward Pikes Peak, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado and Community Health Partnership.

Here's some guidelines for Backpack Challenge participants:

BACKPACK CHALLENGE
  • Backpack Challenge
Wintz, a graphic designer, created a "Try a Little Kindness" emblem in honor of the event, available on T-shirts, posters, mugs and more on RedBubble. She'll donate the proceeds to Westside Cares.

Businesses interested in obtaining the emblem for a fundraiser can contact Wintz at 970/682-0075 or donna@arttomarketdesign.com.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Colorado youth are drinking less but don't seem to know what they're vaping

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 4:00 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Colorado youth are drinking less alcohol, and aren't using marijuana any more than they used to before recreational weed was legalized, according to a new survey on substance use by Rise Above Colorado.

Good news? Sure. But the world of youth substance use is quite a bit more complicated, as researchers found when they analyzed more than 600 survey responses from kids ages 12 to 17.

You can read the full study below, or check out these highlights.

1. Most 12- to 17-year-olds who vape say they don't vape nicotine.

While Rise Above Colorado, a drug abuse prevention organization, has conducted similar surveys in the past, this was the first year it asked youth about their tobacco use. Colorado has a higher rate of teen vaping than any other state, according to a 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Youth who responded to Rise Above Colorado's survey reported lower rates of tobacco use than the CDC report showed, but that could be due to the slightly younger age demographic. Seven percent said they used a vape pen or e-cigarette, while 2 percent smoked cigarettes (the CDC report showed that 26.2 percent of Colorado high schoolers vaped, while 7 percent smoked cigarettes).

RISE ABOVE COLORADO
  • Rise Above Colorado
But interestingly, the survey results suggest that some youth don't understand vape pens contain nicotine. Most (78 percent) said they vaped with nicotine-free flavoring, but almost all vape products sold in convenience stores contain nicotine, and Juul — which has the largest share of the e-cigarette market — does not sell any nicotine-free products.

Youth who smoked cigarettes or vaped were 10 times as likely to misuse prescription drugs, five times as likely to use marijuana and more than twice as likely to drink alcohol.

2. While marijuana use has remained steady and alcohol use has decreased, attitudes about these substances are changing.


In 2018, 37 percent of youth surveyed by Rise Above Colorado said they had drunk alcohol. That's a statistically significant decrease from 2016 levels (46 percent), bringing alcohol use to about the same level as in 2013, when 33 percent of youth responded affirmatively.

Marijuana use has remained stable since 2013. This year, 17 percent of young people said they'd tried it, compared with 15 percent in 2016 and 16 percent in 2013 — before the passage of Amendment 64.

However, Rise Above Colorado warns that changing perceptions about weed and alcohol could make some youth more vulnerable. This year, only about half of 12- to 17-year-olds said drinking once or twice posed a "moderate" risk or "great" risk, compared with 66 percent in 2016. For marijuana, the decrease in risk perception was even greater: 61 percent of youth felt trying weed once or twice was risky, a drop from 73 percent two years earlier. And while 86 percent of youth said they thought using marijuana regularly was risky in 2016, just 79 percent said that last year.

"A lower perception of risk is of concern because it can make youth more likely to use substances while a higher perception of risk can deter future use," reads a statement from Rise Above Colorado about the survey.

3. Youth are more likely to think misusing prescription drugs is dangerous.

RISE ABOVE COLORADO
  • Rise Above Colorado
Just 4 percent of youth used prescription painkillers and/or stimulants to get high in 2018. While that's an increase from 2 percent in 2013, by one measure — risk perception — the outlook looks promising. Ten percent more young people (88 percent versus 78 percent in 2016) said they thought limited misuse of prescription drugs posed a "great" or "moderate" risk. Almost all youth (94 percent) thought regular use was risky, compared with 89 percent two years earlier.

Risk perception may be linked to family discussions about stimulants and painkillers. Slightly more than half of teens said they'd talked with their parents about the drugs, up from 36 percent in 2016.

4. Substance use continues to correlate with attitudes about school, mental health and safety.

Survey gatherers also asked youth to rate their levels of agreement with a set of "risk factor" statements — such as "I am confident that if I experimented with drugs, I could stop whenever I wanted" — and "protective factor" statements, like "Getting good grades is important to me."

For alcohol, the risk factor that had the strongest correlation with alcohol use was "My parents would be fine with me drinking beer once in a while." For weed and other drugs, it was "Experimenting with drugs is just part of being a teenager — it's not that big a deal."

For alcohol and marijuana, the protective factor "The schoolwork I am assigned is often meaningful and important to me" was linked most strongly to less substance use. Worryingly, statistically fewer youth (69 percent, compared with 75 percent in 2016) responded affirmatively to this statement.

When asked how many mentally difficult days they'd experienced in the past month (including "anxiety, stress, depression and problems with emotions") youth responded about the same as they did in 2016, with about 22 percent saying they had one or two hard days, 19 percent with three to five hard days, and 25 percent with six or more. Those in the latter category were more likely to have tried marijuana, alcohol and prescription painkillers.

RISE ABOVE COLORADO
  • Rise Above Colorado

Many students also overestimated classmates' substance use, which Rise Above Colorado warns can be dangerous.

"The overestimation of prevalence among peers can lead to increased use, while closing the gap between perceived and reported use has been proven to decrease substance use over time," its statement reads.

Read the full study:

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