SR district pays high price for October outages

By Sam Leitch, copy editor

By Kyle Wu, business manager

The recent October power outages instituted by PG&E to prevent fires from starting have had a profound effect on the Santa Rosa City Schools District and much of the North Coast, provoking frustration among members of the community as students and teachers work around the loss of power and instructional time.

Superintendent Diann Kitamura is frustrated by PG&E’s failure to elaborate fully on the outages, which prevented her from choosing which schools to close. “There was enough communication. There was just no specifics,” said Kitamura.

However, schools were impacted beyond the closures. Bus schedules, after school programs, and childcare all had to be cancelled because of the outages. Kitamura estimates that the outages cost the district approximately $500,000.

She also states that the school closures during the outages were necessary to keep students safe. Many things require power, including safe travel to and from school, as well as the storage of perishable food items and life-saving medication. 

The power outages also impacted teachers at MCHS and their classes as they were forced to alter their schedules, accommodating for the lost time by either cutting or condensing material.

“As a performing art, we rely on frequency of education rather than huge blocks of time,” band teacher Matt Bringedahl said, adding that future outages will negatively impact student growth by removing opportunities to practice, and that not everyone has a safe place to do so under the circumstances. 

Because district policy prohibits after-school activities when school is closed, the outage on Oct. 9 also almost cancelled one of their concerts. “I think it’s irresponsible of PG&E….they’re keeping a facade of liability while they’re really just protecting their shareholders.” 

AP Chemistry teacher Joy Schermer reports having to adjust her lesson plan repeatedly to prepare for the AP test in May. “The AP test date doesn’t change. The College Board doesn’t care what’s happening in Santa Rosa,” Schermer said, explaining that the outages force her to assign extra work to complete independently. While Schermer had to double down with her lesson plan, she is happy that precautions are being made. “I nearly lost my house in the fires. I fought it myself with a shovel and a hose…so I approve of the preventative measures; however, if PG&E were more forthcoming it would be a lot easier.” 

The district is currently working on methods to circumvent the outages. Kitamura says that the biggest concern is making up lost instruction time. Some potential solutions include using technology such as Google Classroom or Elevate Academy, and even using alternate locations to continue school.

“We want to have students, parents, and staff included in the decisions we’re making,” said Principal Katie Barr. She hopes that the final solution accurately represents what everyone wants, and that school does not go past graduation. 

“That’s our last resort…we definitely want to avoid that as much as possible.”

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