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State lawmakers and Superintendents urge FEMA and GOHSEP to work faster together

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 6:28 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Some of the money to repair Louisiana schools damaged by Hurricane Ida is in the hands of the state. But it’s taking longer than expected to get the money in the hands of the school districts.

The Senate Committee on Education heard from some of the superintendents from those coastal parishes about where they are in the recovery process.

But each of them mentioned one thing that needs improving the most is the line of communication between federal, state, and local governments. While schools in Baton Rouge and some of the surrounding areas received minimal damage from Hurricane Ida, other school districts along the coast were not so lucky.

The committee took turns hearing testimony from superintendents in Calcasieu, Lafourche, and St. Charles. Three areas received tremendous damage not only to their schools but to their student’s homes as well.

“So, our students can’t return, there is nowhere for them to live. Apartment complexes, housing developments, trailer parks they haven’t been able to return,” said Calcasieu Parish Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus.

According to State Superintendent Cade Brumley, nearly 70,000 students are out of school. To make things worse, the cost of repair for these districts is more than they can handle themselves.

Forcing them to rely on state and federal assistance, but the money has yet to reach them.

“And that’s what we’re talking about here is the process and length of time it goes to GOHSEP and they do what they do with it,” said Bruchhaus.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said they have received some of the money from FEMA for the approved projects requested by these districts. But the districts themselves are still waiting for the money. Members of the committee agreed this was unacceptable.

“Are they still holding it and waiting for you to finish this final review and say release the money,” asked Senator Bodi White (R) of Baton Rouge.

“No sir it’s with us,” replied GOHSEP.

“Can you write the superintendent a check on the small amount for the buses and the roof’s today, can you do that today,” asked Senator Cleo Fields (D) of Baton Rouge.

“We’ll do everything we can to do that as soon as possible,” GOHSEP answered.

It was clear the communication between GOHSEP, FEMA, and the school districts has been anything but satisfactory. Governor Edwards said his office is working to fix how long the process takes.

“In terms of speeding that up absolutely and it’s something I’ve talked about with our folks here at GOHSEP as recently as today, but we’ve done that a number of times since late August,” said Governor Edwards.

Although Baton Rouge has not had to deal with these issues yet, the superintendents who showed up today wanted to make sure no school district has to deal with these issues if they’re the next ones to take a hit.

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