Pateros inspired natural disaster school recovery bill approved by the Legislature

A bill inspired and requested by the Pateros School District that would help school districts restore their facilities following natural disasters has passed the Legislature. The Senate approved House Bill 1003 on Mar. 1, 48-0, with a slight amendment, which the House agreed to today with a vote of 95-1.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, would pull state resources and agencies together to develop a model policy to guide school districts following natural disasters, such as wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, and flooding.

The legislation is in response to the Pateros School District, which suffered more than $2 million of damage to its only school building during the Carlton Complex Fire in 2014. It was also supported by the Arlington and Chehalis School Districts whose communities suffered from landslide and flood natural disasters in recent years.

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Jon Wyss, Okanogan County Long-Term Recovery Group Chairman, and Lois Davies, Pateros School District Superintendent, testified before the House Education Committee last session in favor of HB 1003.

“Schools need to have a better guide on how to handle natural disasters that affect school buildings,” said Hawkins. “My hope is that this bill would 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.”

The Carlton Complex Fire’s damage to Pateros School District occurred just weeks before 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 acquiring a waiver from the state to start classes just five days late.

“In the days following the disaster, Lois told me that something like this would be helpful as a starting point for school districts. As a former school board member, I agreed and looked to find a way to help statewide,” said Hawkins.

The bill directs the Washington State School Directors’ Association to provide a model policy for school districts to know who to contact, what to do first, and how to seek financial and informational support at both the state and federal levels. The model policy, once developed by a variety of stakeholders, would be optional for school districts.

The bill now heads to the Governor for his signature.

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Representative Brad Hawkins listens this session to the video-conference testimony of Superintendent Lois Davies before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. This testimony was provided with the assistance of North Central Educational Service District in Wenatchee and was the first ever use of video-conference testimony for this committee.

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