Leaders of the St. John the Baptist Parish school system are asking the state for $8 million to help finance repairs to schools damaged by Hurricane Isaac.
“For us, this was our version of (Hurricane) Katrina,” Felix Boughton, business manager for the district, said of damages to the parish.
While high-level talks are going on, the request for aid, including a one-time legislative appropriation, faces an uncertain future amid state budget problems.
State aid for public schools has been generally frozen for four consecutive years.
Isaac struck southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29, the seventh anniversary of the arrival of Katrina.
Storm surge from lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas helped trigger what longtime residents called unprecedented flooding in LaPlace and elsewhere in the parish.
Repairs to the school district total $38.1 million.
Flood insurance took care of $6 million, leaving $32.1 million unpaid.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to take care of 75 percent, or $24.1 million.
That means the district has to come up with $8 million, mostly for repairs to East St. John High School and Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School.
Boughton said water entered the electrical and mechanical systems, including air conditioners, heating and walls.
During the current semester, about 350 ninth-grade students attend morning classes in an undamaged wing of the high school campus.
For students in grades 10-12, about 650 attend morning classes and 350 do so in the afternoon, both at a separate site.
Normal school days are planned for the second semester with the addition of temporary classrooms, which cost $2 million.
The elementary students have been reassigned to six different schools in the district. The school system has about 6,300 students and 12 campuses.
Damages caused by Katrina were so great that the federal government provided 100 percent reimbursement rather than the traditional 75 percent.
Boughton said district officials met with state Superintendent of Education John White on Tuesday as well as area legislators.
State Sen. Gary Smith, D-Montz, whose senatorial district includes much of the parish, helped organize the gathering and said he has also talked to Paul Rainwater, chief of staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal, and other aides to the governor.
Smith said Jindal administration officials promised to work on the issue but made no financial commitments.
The next regular legislative session starts on April 8.
Smith also said the offices of U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., also have been contacted in hopes of getting FEMA to absorb 90 or 100 percent of the costs.
However, Smith said federal budget problems and hefty costs from Hurricane Sandy could complicate those efforts.
In a statement released Wednesday, the state Department of Education said that White met earlier this week with area legislators and school district officials and talks will continue on how to get schools back to normal.
Russ Wise, a member of the St. John School Board, said Wednesday that despite tireless efforts by Superintendent Herbert Smith and others, prospects for any emergency aid are murky.
“While FEMA and our insurance are lining up to do their part, there has been no indication from the state that they see any responsibility toward public schools,” Wise said.