Once denied, School Board again seeks $2M from FEMA

Published 12:15 am Saturday, February 20, 2016

LAPLACE — Public school officials are seeking a little more than $2M in funding from FEMA to help defray the cost of setting up a temporary campus for Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School, where students have been without a permanent home since Hurricane Isaac struck the region in 2012.

Representatives of St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) met Tuesday to review the local request.

Superintendent Kevin George said GOHSEP representatives plan to set up a meeting with FEMA officials in the next month so School District leaders can formally request the federal funding.

“GOHSEP feels like we have a strong case,” George said. “We’re going to tweak our presentation a little bit based on our meeting (Tuesday) to make sure we paint the entire picture of everything that happened once Hurricane Isaac hit us in 2012.”

According to George, it cost the School District approximately $2.7 million to set up Lake Pontchartrain Elementary’s temporary campus on the southwest end of the East St. John Elementary School site.

The School District purchased those buildings so rental fees are not being paid. If approved, George said FEMA would fund 75 percent of the total cost.

FEMA funding has already been earmarked for or used in the rebuilding of East St. John High School, renovations for the temporary use of Leon Godchaux Junior High and in the rebuilding of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary on U.S. 51.

A potential hiccup in receiving the funding was the School District’s delay in setting up the temporary campus and the availability of other elementary schools.

A FEMA spokeswoman told L’OBSERVATEUR this week it was her understanding the presence of operating elementary schools in St. John Parish that could have taken in displaced students was the reason FEMA was not funding Lake Pontchartrain Elementary’s temporary campus.

GOHSEP Assistant Deputy Director Mark DeBosier said the School Board’s initial request for reimbursement was denied by FEMA.

“However, recent discussions with the School Board has revealed additional information, which we believe will cast new light on its request,” DeBosier said. “We are optimistic that this latest request will result in a more favorable FEMA decision. GOHSEP will be engaging FEMA Region 6 within the next 30 days for reconsideration.”

During a recent School Board meeting, School District Executive Director of Finance Felix Boughton said Lake Pontchartrain Elementary students were initially  bused to six schools after Isaac struck.

“That didn’t work out,” Boughton said. “The Board decided to fund their own temporary campus and ask for the money after. (The students) are safe and sound in a nice temporary campus. They are not getting bused all over the parish.”

George said St. John officials have gathered additional information over the last few months to present FEMA new reasons for the temporary campus.

“We feel like once they hear our presentation, they will understand why we did what we did and when we did it and would fund our temporary campus,” George said.