Gov. Newsom Meets Paradise Elementary Students for First Week Back to School

PARADISE -- Nine months after the Camp Fire, there is still destruction all around Paradise.

But some buildings made it through the fire, like Paradise Ridge Elementary School, which just reopened last week.

Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom took a tour to see the progress and check in on students who had just returned to class.

“I want to see the progress and I want to make sure we’re following through on our promises,” Newsom said. “I’m really proud of the work that they’ve done.”

Nearly half of the schools in the district survived the fire. They reopened after the smoke damage was cleared and new water filters were installed.

“We expected about a thousand kids and we’re at almost 1,600,” said Paradise Unified School District Superintendent Michelle John. “So, we had some very tearful moments that people came back. We’re having to hire and that's a great problem to have.”

The superintendent said PUSD was able to reopen the schools thanks in large part to funding from the state.

“We have 46% of our students. That’s a huge hit when you’re financed on your ADA. So, the state has been very generous; they have given us full financing for this year and next year,” she explained.

In February, the governor approved more than $24 million to help Butte County recover and reopen schools by backfilling local property taxes.

But moving forward, John said more help will be needed and spoke with the governor Wednesday about other funding possibilities moving forward.

“We really can’t afford to make cuts, especially in the social-emotional area,” John said.

Gov. Newsom said he is listening, as well as focused on rebuilding homes in Paradise.

“We need to be aggressive in terms of the insurance issues,” he said.

Insurance companies are denying wildfire coverage to thousands of homeowners across the state who live in fire-prone areas. Newsom said that could pose major issues for people looking to rebuild across Butte County.

“We are looking at some interim solutions and then some long-term solutions,” Newsom said.

Newsom did not offer specifics but said his office is working on it.

While he knows the rebuilding process for Paradise will be long and difficult, visiting Wednesday left him optimistic.

“You get a sense really quickly of how a community is doing through the eyes of children,” he said. “I feel inspired by this.”

Senator Bernie Sanders will be in Paradise Thursday touring the area as part of his presidential campaign. The superintendent said she is glad to see their community is not being forgotten.

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