Happy Friday, Boulder! 🎉 Should be a beautiful weekend ahead — hope you’re able to get out there and enjoy it.

Today’s top story from our new summer fellow Henry Larson looks at the tentative deal for higher wages struck this week between BVSD and the district’s paraeducators. We’ve also got the latest on the statewide fentanyl bill, new building regulations for unincorporated Boulder County, an update on yesterday’s Table Mesa commotion and more.

Got a story idea? Don’t be shy.

Until Monday,

– Jezy, managing editor

Arborists dismantled a cottonwood on Pearl Street on Thursday, May 12, 2022, despite an effort by protesters to keep the tree standing. “City Forestry staff routinely monitor the health and structural integrity of the city’s public trees. This tree dates to approximately 1880 and the city has pruned the tree twice in recent years to prolong its life. Despite these efforts, the tree continues to decline in health and to remove the risk to public safety should any large limbs or the trunk fail, the tree will need to be removed,” the city said in a news release. Credit: John Herrick

Quickly

👀 Red Flag Warning: Very dry and breezy conditions persist, leaving Boulder under another Red Flag Warning from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, per NWS. Avoid any burning or outdoor activity that might cause a spark.

🌤️ Mostly sunny and pleasant: Fire danger aside, it should be a beautiful day with highs in the mid-70s. Expect much of the same over the weekend.

🆕 Statewide fentanyl bill passes: On the last day of the 2022 legislative session on Wednesday, state lawmakers passed a bill aimed at reducing the use of fentanyl. The powerful opiate, often added to recreational drugs, is driving a recent rise in overdose deaths. The bill includes funding for treatment and drug addiction services. But it also includes a controversial provision that makes it a felony to possess more than one gram of any drug containing even trace amounts of fentanyl.

🚫 Amabile votes no: The only Boulder lawmaker to vote against the bill was Rep. Judy Amabile. She told the Boulder Reporting Lab the harsher penalty would result in more people with substance use disorders or mental health issues languishing in jail. “And once you’re there, it’s going to be really hard for you to get out,” Amabile said. “I feel like it is just a wrong direction to go back to the War on Drugs.” (Naloxone, an easy-to-use nasal spray designed to reverse an opioid overdose, is available for free and without a prescription at pharmacies and the Boulder County AIDS Project, a local harm-reduction organization in downtown Boulder.)

🏠 Statewide building code mandate to become law: HB 1362 passed the house and awaits Gov. Jared Polis’ signature. The law mandates a statewide building code by requiring towns, cities and counties to adopt the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) by 2025. It advances efficiency 8% to 9%, compared to the 2018 iteration. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tracey Bernett, whose district includes Louisville and nearly half the 1,084 homes destroyed by the Marshall Fire.

🏗️ New building regulations for unincorporated Boulder County: In more building code news, the Boulder County Commissioners yesterday approved new regulation changes that would require the use of fire-resistant materials during construction in Wildfire Zone 2, which covers eastern unincorporated Boulder County. Updates will take effect on June 6, 2022.

🦠 Covid in Boulder County: As of May 10, Boulder County Public Health reported 10 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Boulder County. That number is relatively low when compared to previous waves during the pandemic. But it’s about twice the number of Covid-19 patients in Boulder County’s hospitals on any given day since mid-March. Boulder County residents 75 and older have among the highest rates of Covid-19, according to county data.  

💰 Federal cash for debris removal: FEMA announced Thursday it has approved more than $29 million in funding to support Boulder County’s debris removal efforts. $26.9 million will go to the county for private property debris removal work, with $2.8 million dedicated to monitoring and technical support.

📞 Scam awareness: The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office is warning people about a police impersonation scam. “We have had several reports about a male calling female real estate agents, claiming to be a [Boulder County Sherriff] deputy and instructing them to turn themselves in,” it said via Facebook this week. “One woman was told to meet ‘the deputy’ to compare signatures from a supposed subpoena. Other victims were told that they missed a court date where they were ordered to testify and now they have a warrant for their arrest.”

🚓 Update on Table Mesa incident: 16 charges have been filed against the suspect allegedly connected to crimes in three jurisdictions on Thursday. The alleged incidents include a carjacking in Broomfield, driving on the Pearl Street pedestrian mall and striking property near 15th and Pearl streets, and later driving onto the sidewalk and toward the RTD bus stop on Table Mesa Drive near the U.S. 36 east ramp. Officers fired on the suspect after he allegedly brandished a gun, according to the police department press release.

Top Story

BVSD paraeducators say they’re underpaid for their vital work in the classroom. Will a new deal bring their wages in line with the cost of living in Boulder County?

On a typical day during the school year, you’ll find Kimberly Fratzke in a classroom at Fairview High School. She is a paraeducator: an employee of Boulder Valley School District who supports teachers and gives individual attention to students who require additional help in school, like those with developmental or learning disabilities.

Fratzke has been a paraeducator for four years, and she says she is underpaid for her work, to the point where she is considering resigning at the end of this year.

“It feels as though we’re not valued because our salaries are so low,” she said. “We get called heroes but [the district doesn’t] support that with the pay.”

Fratzke said she makes about $20 an hour working 32 hours a week during the school year, close to $20,000 annually. According to Fratzke, those hours are somewhat atypical as most paraeducators work closer to 20 hours a week.

According to BVSD’s existing salary schedule for 2021-22, beginning instructional paraeducators can expect to make $15 an hour, while a level-three special skills aide (educational interpreters and special education paraeducator trainers) begin at an hourly rate near $25. Those rates are scheduled to increase with on-the-job experience.

“The reason I’m able to do this job is because my husband makes over four times what I do, but if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to afford to do this work,” she said.

Fratzke isn’t alone in her frustration. Dozens of Boulder Valley School District paraeducators, bus drivers and other support professionals protested outside the district’s administrative building and lobbied during that evening’s school board meeting on Tuesday, May 10, to demand more compensation. 

Salaries of school district employees have not kept pace with the steep cost of living in Boulder County. And their call for higher wages comes as housing costs and inflation continue to rise. 

BRL Picks

 🏕️ Camps for kids: Looking to keep the young ones busy and inspired this summer? The Museum of Boulder is offering tons of cool summer camps for kids — from comic book workshops to toy-building classes, a primer on curatorship for young historians and more. Full details here.

🎻 Climate concert: The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra has announced details for its 2022-23 season, beginning October 8 with the world premiere of Drew Hemenger’s climate change-themed Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet. Featuring the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus and tenor Matthew Plenk, the work incorporates U.N. climate reports, Inidgenous texts, and speeches by climate activist Greta Thunberg, inspired by Shelley’s poem of the same name. Subscribe for the season, or snap up your individual tickets when they go on sale in August.

🎨 Everyone’s a critic: Looking for some outside perspective on your artwork? The Boulder Art Association presents free digital art critiques every Saturday on Zoom, 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. The team reviews works by five local artists during each session. Register here.

Covid-19 Updates: May 13, 2022

  • 201 daily new cases (7-day avg.) ⬆️Up 103% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 10 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from avg. of 40 since July 2020.
  • 44% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.
  • Apparent spike: 700 cases were reported in Boulder County on Wednesday alone, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
  • Explaining BRL’s Covid data + correction: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Covid-19 patient hospitalization counts fewer than four people are suppressed. Boulder Reporting Lab uses the HHS data in this newsletter’s Covid-19 updates. Because that data has been suppressed, we have incorrectly reported the Covid-19 patient hospitalization numbers as zero since mid-March. According to the county health department, which relies on a different reporting system than HHS, the number of Covid-19 patient hospitalizations has fluctuated from about three to seven on any given day since mid-March. For the time being, we will report hospitalization data from Boulder County Public Health.
  • Via Boulder Fire Rescue: “We still have the iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test and KN95 masks if anyone needs some.”

What We’re Reading

📖 Big investment in cell-based therapy at CU Anschutz: “An existing center on the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus that helps develop treatments based on patients’ own cells is getting a $200 million boost, with the hope of getting those treatments to the public faster. Chancellor Don Elliman said the Anschutz campus and the Gates Frontiers Fund will each invest $20 million per year over the next five years to turn the existing Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine into the significantly larger Gates Institute.” [Denver Post]

ICYMI from BRL

‘We love coffee culture’: Married team John Imig and Kristi Persinger elevate community and cut through the pretense at January Coffee. After sharpening their skills behind the top espresso bars on the west coast, the caffeinated couple bring their people-centered vision to Boulder at a brand new shop at Market Square Shopping Center.

🔥 ‘These areas are made to burn’: When it comes to the health of the forests surrounding Boulder, there is no replacement for fire. The answer to a centuries-old debate surrounding our relationship to nature could be a bitter pill for Boulder, according to OSMP Vegetation Stewardship Senior Manager Chris Wanner.

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Thanks for reading!

Our journalism depends on you.
Have a story tip for us?
Send us your ideas at tips@boulderreportinglab.org.

– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.