Mandatory evacuations and candlelight vigils weren’t part of the plan when first-time Superintendent Amy Alzina took over at Cold Spring School District. But all the planning in the world couldn’t match the impact of Mother Nature.
“Wildfires started in December and we were forced to close school for seven days,” Alzina said. “They grew to about a half mile away, which was pretty scary for the entire community.”
What had a greater impact on the district came less than a week after school reopened. In the district’s path was a massive winter storm that was set to wreak havoc on the charred land surrounding entire neighborhoods. The rain came one night and the massive mudslides came right after.
Nearly two dozen people died in the mudslides. Two were Cold Spring students. A sixth grade student who was critically injured in the disaster continues to recover after a long stint in the intensive care unit.
In the aftermath, the destruction was beyond imagination. While the only district school was structurally secure and had power, water wasn’t available. But neighborhoods were lost and some families took refuge in motels and homes outside of the district. Little by little, families are returning to their homes.
“There has been a lot of healing in our community and our families have really relied on each other to get through these tough times,” Alzina said.
But now the school district is facing economic tough times. Cold Springs is a community-funded school district where income is based on property taxes. So every student and family matters in the calculation of the district’s spending plan. As of this moment, Cold Spring is looking at a 3-8 percent decline in revenue.
“We’re at the mercy of others right now and the financial impact of what comes next is potentially devastating,” Alzina said. “We’re going to need to cut almost $400,000 from the budget.”
Alzina says the district has been in deficit spending for some time and budget reserves will only keep the school doors open for two weeks. She says the only bailout for her district and others experiencing a similar issue is to get support from the state Capitol.
“We need legislation in Sacramento where the state can backfill the funding for community districts that have been hurt by natural disasters,” she said. “We need a mechanism to be in place to keep community-funding districts solvent.”
At least one year of funding is needed, Alzina says, to make a real impact on the day-to-day operations of these types of districts.
ACSA’s Governmental Relations team is currently working to secure legislation that would mitigate the financial impact on districts facing hardship due to natural disasters. Those disasters would include fires and mudslides.
In the meantime, Alzina is leveraging the community aspect of her new role to keep the Cold Spring engine running.
“I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” she said. “But these students and these families mean so much to me, and we as education leaders owe it to our communities to be strong through the good times and rough times.”