FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 15, 2015
CONTACT: Sarah Stewart, Public Information Officer – (360) 786-7720
Public hearing in Olympia discusses legislation to help schools recover after wildfires
The Carlton Complex Fire not only burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land, hundreds of homes, and dozens of businesses, it also damaged the only school in Pateros. With just a few weeks until the school year was scheduled to begin, school administrators had to scramble to replace the roof, carpeting, ceiling tiles and more, while obtaining funding, working with insurance, and obtaining a waiver from the state to start school just five days late.
Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, wants to ensure schools have a better guide on how to handle natural disasters that affect school buildings.
Hawkins sponsored House Bill 1003 to help schools recover after natural disasters. If passed and signed into law, the bill would provide a model policy for school districts to know who to contact, what to do first, and how to get financial and informational support. A hearing was held in the House Education Committee today, and Pateros School District Superintendent Lois Davies drove to Olympia to testify in favor.
She spoke about how the school was saved from the devastating wildfires last summer four times, but still had smoke-filled hallways and embers that landed on the roof. Even with the damage, the school served as the resource center for the entire community. They served meals three times a day through early August until they had to shift from being an emergency center to teaching students again.
“We had more than $2 million in damage and had less than a month to get ready for the school year,” said Davies. “Everywhere I asked, ‘Is there a checklist?’ Everyone gave us support, but we didn’t have a resource list from anywhere. This would provide a consolidated, coordinated effort to come up with a model policy.”
Davies said she gets calls from other superintendents across the state on what to do and who she called for support. The model policy would save superintendents and school board members time and anxiety after a disaster, she said.
Jon Wyss, chair of the Carlton Complex Fire Long Term Recovery Group, traveled from Brewster to testify in support of the bill as well.
“All of the schools in the area have disaster plans for emergency exit, if there’s a fire, get out. But there’s not a plan that’s put in place for any school district in the state that I know of to prepare your community for recovery efforts and to be the lifeline to get your community back and stable,” said Wyss. “This bill would provide guidance and a checklist much like you have to evacuate a building.”
“After visiting the school several times and seeing the damage, Superintendent Davies expressed her appreciation of all the support she received from various groups and state agencies, but she also shared her confusion with who to call and how to handle various situations to get the school up and running in a very short amount of time,” said Hawkins. “My hope is that this bill will give school districts a starting point for what to do, who to call, and what resources are available if there is a natural disaster that directly affects another school’s infrastructure and school year. After this tragedy, we are all looking for good to come out of what happened so things are better the next time a natural disaster strikes.”
Watch the full hearing online here. The school recovery measure awaits action by the House Education Committee in order to move forward.
Hawkins also recently introduced House Bill 1125 to provide recovery funding from an existing account called the Economic Development Strategic Reserve Account. The Carlton Complex Fire Long-Term Recovery Group would receive $500,000 for economic recovery in Okanogan County.
“This funding is about helping households and businesses financially – although no financial token can make up for the heirlooms, the history, and memories people lost in the fires,” Hawkins said. “I’ve been so inspired and encouraged by the resolve of the people in my district through these difficult times. They have helped each other in spite of losing things themselves, and they have been determined to carry on and rebuild. These recovery dollars will help them to do that, but it is just the beginning of what could be a decade-long recovery.”
The recovery funding bill has been referred to the House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee, and awaits to be scheduled a public hearing. Hawkins said he hopes to have a work session in Olympia on last year’s wildfire season at the same time this bill is heard. Additional information will be provided when known.
The 2015 session is scheduled to adjourn April 26.
For more information about Rep. Hawkins, visit: www.representativebradhawkins.com.
Rep. Hawkins’ media:
Washington State House Republican Communications
461 John L. O’Brien Building
P.O. Box 40600
Olympia, WA 98504-0600