Some St. John schools slow to recover from Isaac - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Some St. John schools slow to recover from Isaac

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LaPlace, La. -- School buses dot the parking lot of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School on Highway 51, but there is no life on the campus. The building is clearly still gutted from floodwaters from Hurricane Isaac a year ago.

Up Airline Highway sits East St. John High School. With a lot of its campus still in disrepair because of storm damage only 9th graders are housed there; the school's 10th, 11th and 12th grade students continue to get their education at other schools.

Chanda Robinson, who lives in walking distance to the elementary school campus, has children affected by the slow recovery of the two schools.

"My 4-year-old who started Pre-K this year, she would have been attending Lake Pontchartrain Elementary," said Robinson.

Robinson's older daughter attends East St. John High School, but her classes continue to be held at another campus. "It's a little further out for her to have to travel and she said a little inconvenient because they have trailers, Robinson stated.

Money, school officials said, is the source of the problem. Specifically they point to a disagreement with FEMA over how much the school system should get in the wake of the hurricane.

"There's a huge difference in what FEMA is offering us and what we feel we need to put us back to where we were before Hurricane Isaac," said St. John School Superintendent Kevin George.

"Until we're assured of getting enough money to cover what needs to be done, we can't move forward on it at all," said School Board member Russ Wise.

Wise agrees with the superintendent that the elementary school is so damaged that it must be torn down. "If we can do that and use FEMA money and move it literally about 30 or 40 feet, then it will be high enough to avoid a flood like we had before," said Wise.

"I just think that it's imperative that FEMA give us the money to make us whole. We're not asking for a Taj Mahal, we want it back that way it was before the storm," stated George.

George's staff estimates there is a $17 million difference in what the school system says is needed to rebuild East St. John High, and it estimates $30 million is needed to build the new elementary school, but said so far FEMA has only offered $6 million for that project.

Robinson said it is especially frustrating for her daughter, who is a senior and was looking forward to returning to the school's campus before she graduates in 2014. "They did not want to have to graduate from this other school that they're redirected to, they would have preferred to graduate from their high school," she said.

But returning to the Airline Highway campus by then is seen as unlikely.

"Probably not, to be very honest, because where we are right now, we have to file an appeal with FEMA that could anywhere take from six to nine months to even a year," said the superintendent.

Wise is among the St. John Parish officials who met Wednesday afternoon with Louisiana's senior senator, Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), about recovery issues.

"She chairs the subcommittee that is responsible for FEMA and so she's got some clout in this area," said Wise.

As the school system works on its appeal of FEMA's offerings, Landrieu said an arbitration panel she helped create after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could come into play in this situation.

"We're going to use that same ability to resolve this issue because the locals know best after a storm where is the best way to rebuild," said Landrieu.

Robinson and others who have children affected by the two schools hope there is progress soon.

"This is something that should have been addressed sooner and given the priority as far as attention," said Robinson.

School officials said they will continue to fight the federal bureaucracy to get what this community is entitled to in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac.

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