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The future for schools on the ridge

“We are very dedicated to our schools and we are dedicated to our children,” said Michelle John, the superintendent of Paradise Unified School District.

Posted: Nov 8, 2019 11:52 AM
Updated: Nov 8, 2019 4:25 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - “We are very dedicated to our schools and we are dedicated to our children,” said Michelle John, the superintendent of Paradise Unified School District.

Since the Camp Fire, her 1600 student body dropped by half. A smaller student body and PG&E blackouts are just a few of the obstacles they now face.

“One of our biggest concerns is when parents lose power up here. We have power but they don’t have power to get into us or get out to us. We can get to them if they can get power,” John said.

Another obstacle, a possible cut in state funding.

Right now Paradise and Magalia schools get $30 million based on last year's student average attendance.

However, that could change next year, fewer students means less money which could mean cutting teachers.

“We’re losing employees and we will probably face some layoffs our staff cost becomes artificially inflated because when you lay off, you lay off the newer teachers, unfortunately. All the experienced teachers who are great we love experienced teachers. But of course rightfully so they cost more money,” John said.

And now with all the PG&E blackouts, money that could go toward paying teachers and improving schools are being used on a generator, John said could cost $5 million.

“We owe it to our students to get them educated and to keep them warm and to keep their basic needs met," John said. "We can't educate kids if they're not warm and they don’t have food and if they have no clothes. It's hard to educate students that way.”

John believes Paradise and Magalia schools will rebuild but it’s going to be difficult with a possible cut in funding and staff.

There were about 400 district employees before the fire now only around 260 employees.

John said most teachers who lost their job got hired at other North State school districts.

Right now the district is saving every penny for the anticipated cut in funding. However, “our transportation still stays way high, our special ed stays way high, our cost of employees stays way high,” John added.

Josh Peete is the superintendent of the Golden Feather Union Elementary School District.

“The property taxes fund the school more than a regular school would,” Peete said.

Fewer homes mean a lower tax base and less funding for the school district.

“If it does then we would eventually take some sort of hit but were not sure how much that’s going to be,” Peete said.

Currently, the district gets more than $1 million for its only school at the moment Concow School at Spring Valley.

“We are planning on staying at Spring Valley until we start to see some development up in Concow, at this time Concow has very little development,” Peete said.

Action News Now reporter Jafet Serrato rode along with Peete to Concow School to check out the damage left from the Camp Fire.

“I’ve been pushing to have Concow School open by next school year," Peete said. "Our plan at least is to use that site for a cafeteria.”

Peete said the school looks fine on the surface but they’re waiting for insurance to fix the broken water filtration system.

“This water system was destroyed in the fire and that’s what's been so difficult to figure out,” Peete said.

As Concow School rebuilds, teachers like Jennifer Diaz are making sure her students focus on education.

“I think that when they get a chance to come to school when they’re not worried about all the things they’re trying to fix at home they’re excited to be here," Diaz said.

Jennifer sees more than 50 students in her school every day.

“Even though there are times where there's a few of them we make sure they're doing fun stuff doing hands-on activities, not just here's your worksheet here's what you're doing today,” Diaz said.

Erica and Casandra both have kids at Paradise Ridge Elementary School.

“It's going to be difficult but I know us as parents and staff are going to rally together and make this possible… the teachers and staff have done an amazing job,” Erica said.

They're faithful the ridge will rise again.

“We are not going to let them down when people say it couldn’t happen it can’t happen, why don’t you shutdown? We say watch us, watch us build,” John said.

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