Following a three week fire-related interruption, public schools throughout Butte County re-opened yesterday, with local and state officials vowing unwavering support.
Re-opening schools after the Camp Fire has been anything but child’s play.
Michelle John is Superintendent of Paradise Unified School District.
“Of our nine schools, four were destroyed completely, all but one have major damage, and we know there’s no residents up there right now, they cannot get up there,” John said.
John and county superintendent Tim Taylor said the goal has been to reopen schools as soon as possible, and as much as possible, keep students with the same teachers.
That’s hard to do when students and teachers from Paradise are scattered across the region.
“We are spread out, families this morning as we were hugging and I said ‘where did you come from?’ They came from Redding, they came from Red Bluff, they came from Sacramento, and they drove here so that their kids could be with their teachers. That’s all that they asked of us," she said.
Incoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said he tried to personally reassure students with high fives, smiles and a hearty welcome.
“I talked with some second graders and tried to imagine what it must be like to walk into a place that you don’t know, and watched students as they ran off of the bus to give hugs to those teachers and staff that they recognized.” Thurmond said.
Some high schoolers have been assigned to a temporary site at the Chico Mall, and are assigned an independent study. Officials said they hope to soon announce a new temporary school site, presumably ready for the spring semester.
But beyond the hopeful rhetoric, there are plenty of mountains left to move. School funding in California is derived from property tax and average daily attendance—the number of students showing up on a given school day. With the vast majority of Paradise in ruins and classes throughout the county cancelled for more than three weeks, the financial hits are staggering.
Outgoing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said lawmakers in Sacramento will have to ride to the rescue, a scenario he nearly guarantees.
“We’ll be working on special legislation, Tony Thurmond, you met him, he’s determined to help get that passed, so that the schools will be held harmless, and if there’s a drop off of 25 percent, or whatever the percent is, you will not lose money according to the legislation I’m backing and Tony Thurmond will be marshalling through the state legislature.” Torlakson said.
Torlakson anticipates a deal similar to the one offered to Santa Rosa schools after massive fires there last year, with money from the state’s General Fund tapped to cover the district’s needs.