Disaster Capitalism Collects from FEMA: Why NOLA Charterites Have 1,800 Million Reasons to Celebrate, Part I
Keep in mind this last point. Despite the actively-racist fixing, finagling, recruiting in and pushing out, the charters are having a tough time holding on to their test score advantage over the public school dumping ground they have created for purposes of unfair comparison.
by Cindy Chang
August 26, 2010
$1.8 billion from FEMA for Hurricane Katrina school rebuilding is 'worth the wait,' Sen. Mary Landrieu says
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans public schools have received a $1.8 billion FEMA grant to build or renovate about 85 schools, Sen. Mary Landrieu announced Wednesday.
The news came a day after Louisiana was rejected for a $175 million federal education grant, disappointing many local officials who had considered the state a shoo-in.
Those same officials were jubilant on Wednesday, calling the settlement historic because it bundles the school systems' extensive Katrina damage into one large project, rather than using a building-by-building accounting. In addition to streamlining the negotiating process, the lump sum approach allows a devastated city to place new structures where they are most needed, without being restricted to rebuilding what was there before.
Since Katrina, the New Orleans schools have received nationwide recognition for their innovative practices and improved academic performance. But for the most part, students have been housed in campuses composed entirely of portable classrooms or in aging buildings that were already crumbling before Katrina's winds and floodwaters hit. The long-awaited FEMA grant means that every school will receive either a new building or a substantially renovated one.
"This is one of the great victories in our fight for a smarter recovery," Landrieu, D-La., said. "It's a fight we won, and it was a battle worth waging. It was worth the wait ... I hope this will serve as the model for many communities rebuilding after catastrophic tragedies."
FEMA, which has not yet announced the award, issued the following statement: "The Obama Administration remains committed to supporting Gulf Coast communities as they continue to recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which is why we have worked hard to cut through red tape and resolve disputes over recovery projects, freeing up over $2.5 billion in public assistance dollars since January 2009. We anticipate another major announcement regarding ongoing recovery efforts will be made later this week."
In November 2008, the city's two school districts, the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board, approved a $1.8 billion master plan for facilities construction in anticipation of the eventual FEMA settlement. With the student population down to nearly half of pre-storm totals, many of the 128 existing campuses are scheduled to be "landbanked," or retired from active use, leaving about 85 to be built or renovated.
Three new schools -- Langston Hughes Elementary, Greater Gentilly High School and L.B. Landry High School -- and three renovations -- William J. Guste Elementary, Andrew Wilson Elementary and Joseph Craig Elementary -- are already finished. Work continues on the remainder of the plan's $700 million first phase, with completion dates mostly in fall 2012 or fall 2013.
The money for the first phase had already been committed by FEMA, but the remaining $1.1 billion the schools hoped to receive was in doubt until Wednesday. The amount of the settlement matches the master plan's estimated price tag, but construction costs and other variables could drive up the final tally. Financing for the $370 million second phase and the $179 million third phase seems assured, said Stan Smith, the Orleans Parish School BoardÃ¢€™s chief financial officer.
Phase two projects include new schools at the Hoffman, Dunbar, Priestley, Capdau/Bradley, Lockett, Morial, Abrams, Henderson/Fischer, Tubman, McDonogh 11 and Karr sites, as well as one labeled "Jeff site." Renovations are slated for McDonogh 15, Live Oak, Lafayette, Clark, Drew, Gaudet and McDonogh 35.
Most of the new schools in phase two are priced at either $19.8 million or $26.4 million. Beyond phase one, the master plan does not include completion dates.
Since the storm, nearly three-quarters of the city's public schools have become independently run charters. With two school districts overseeing a loose grouping of charters and not enough quality facilities to go around, building assignments have been a major bone of contention.
"If we didn't have this single settlement, we'd be arguing about how much for this school, how much for that school, Now, we can just go ahead and start building and get kids out of modulars," said Orleans Parish School Board President Woody Koppel.
Negotiations with FEMA had been ongoing since the storm, but the finalizing of the master plan, as well as legislation by Landrieu authorizing lump sum payments to schools affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, gave new impetus to the talks.
In a written statement, Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas praised Landrieu for being the prime mover behind the settlement.
"It was her sheer determination and untiring efforts that enabled us to secure this settlement, along with the flexibility to spend the money in a way that will allow us to build public schools that will serve the needs of all the children in our city," Vallas said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu also thanked his sister and said the city will try to follow suit by obtaining a lump-sum settlement for public safety facilities.
"This settlement is a big win for the children of New Orleans ... For too long our children have been learning in temporary, unsatisfactory buildings," Mayor Landrieu said in a news release. "This settlement will help make schools the center of neighborhood renewal."
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