St. Bernard Parish Schools Get $148.3 Million From FEMA
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is releasing $148.3 million to rebuild St. Bernard Parish’s public schools. The amount comes after years of negotiating, and is $60 million more than the agency’s initial assessment of loss value after Hurricane Katrina. The amount will help the St. Bernard school board consolidate its rebuilding projects to improve select facilities. The amount is part of $500 million the district has received from FEMA.
FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office’s Deputy Director of Programs Andre Cadogan said, “Our consolidated funding best reflects the needs of the St. Bernard Parish School Board as they embark on their final rebuilding efforts and becoming the first school system in Louisiana destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to reach their end goal -- full recovery.”
In 2008, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. pushed for legislation to allow for lump-sum payments and reduced penalties for alternative plans, such as St. Bernard’s plan to consolidate its original 14 facilities down to 9 facilities. The move from approving disaster payments on a project by project basis to providing single block payments allows the district to exercise autonomy when it comet to allocating funds for improvements.
“The whole intent isn’t to give you more than what you had before, but to give you the financial value of what you had in the past and not tie you to have to do exactly what you had previously,” said St. Bernard Schools Superintendent Doris Voitier. “You have to think how you are going to rebuild to service the community you have now and the community you expect the parish to become.”
Post-Katrina recovery efforts have been volatile issues for parishes. The school district argument has been that FEMA undervalued the cost of rebuilding in today’s marketplace, and FEMA’s reassessment of district losses is a critical step toward rebuilding schools.
St. Bernard parish had three public high schools before Katrina. Today, Chalmette High School is the only one. It is undergoing a three-year renovation and expansion project. The school district has completed Joe Davies and J.F. Gauthier Elementary schools, a new Ninth Grade Academy, a cultural arts building, and a transportation, maintenance and storage building.
Other projects in the works are LaCoste Elementary and Arabi Elementary School Gymnasium openings, and the conversion of the Maumus Center to a science center, planetarium, and Hurricane Katrina museum.