Questions surround latest round of FEMA funds

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 18, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – On Monday afternoon the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced more funding for the still-recovering St. John the Baptist Parish School District to aid repairs to the interior of the East St. John High School’s main building.
The agency awarded nearly $1.3 million this time around and said it has obligated more than $18.8 million in Public Assistance funding for St. John Parish Schools to date.
“Hurricane Isaac caused major devastation in St. John Parish last year,” said FEMA Region Six Administrator Tony Robinson. “We are proud of the successful recovery efforts there so far, and pledge to continue our successful collaboration with parish and state leaders as even more progress is made.”
 Superintendent Kevin George said the district is currently not in a position to accept or reject any additional funding since board members chose to use the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 during a board meeting in early September. George said he had spoken with GOHSEP concerning the funding announcement.
But for now the funds remain in limbo.
“Of course we appreciate any dollars that they’re giving us, and that $1.3 million will help. But you know, we have a long way to go in reconciling what we need to have happen and the amount of money that FEMA is offering us,” he said.
George revealed that All South Consulting Agency was currently conducting an engineering analysis at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary and East St. John High School. The district won’t know exactly what amount it needs from FEMA for the schools until the analysis is complete, now that it has chosen the Sandy act route.
The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 is an amendment to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act that would allegedly streamline the process of receiving FEMA funding and allow more flexible use of funding.
The board voted to utilize the act and apply to the Alternative Procedures Pilot Program at the recommendation of All South Consulting Agency, the firm originally hired to handle the district’s appeal to FEMA.
The district had previously chosen to appeal the amount FEMA was offering for both of the damaged schools. At the time, Executive Director of Business and Finance for the St. John School District Felix Boughton said it would cost about $30 million to rebuild Lake Pontchartrain Elementary and a little more than $20 million to repair East St. John High.
He estimated the district would need about $17.5 million to cover the difference.
George reiterated that the district is not rejecting the funding.
“We are not in a position where we have to accept or appeal what FEMA is offering. Now we’re actually working with FEMA to come up with an alternate solution to the issues we have. We have more flexibility with this route,” said George.