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Midwest Districts Assess Flood Damage, Weigh School Openings

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West Alton Elementary School, northeast of St. Charles, Mo., has survived floods before.

When the Missouri and Mississippi rivers spilled over on nearby farms and towns in 1986, the school's 100 K-3 students had to join the older children at the rural district's only other campus.

But this summer, record flooding along the eastern border of the state has taken its toll on West Alton.

Last week, the school was under 10 feet of water, and the rivers were expected to crest again in a matter of days, said Superintendent Gerald Reisinger of the Orchard Farm school district, where West Alton is located.

Like school officials in other flood-ravaged areas in Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois, the superintendent is beginning to assess the damage and anticipate its effect on school openings.

The Missouri and Iowa education departments estimate that only a handful of schools have been damaged during the flood, but roads and bridges have been washed out, fleets of school buses are submerged in district garages, and buildings that stored school equipment and supplies are knee-deep in water.

Illinois school officials could not be reached last week.

Students Displaced

Some districts also face the possibility that many students will not return when the schools open in late August or early September.

Children who fled with their families to apartments, motels, or shelters outside the flood plains likely will enroll in schools in those neighboring districts, according to James L. Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri education department.

"Our biggest problem is with displacement,'' said Mr. Reisinger, who expects his district's enrollment will drop by about 25 percent.

Meanwhile, the St. Charles schools, which have essentially been untouched by the flooding, anticipate an influx of 100 to 500 new students, said Superintendent Mark Keen.

"Our schools, in many cases, are already at capacity,'' Mr. Keen added.

But some schools in Missouri may decide to bus their students across district lines, Mr. Morris noted.

"This raises all kinds of legal questions,'' he added. "These are practical things we're just going to have to work out.''

Des Moines school officials expect most students will return this fall, but they estimate that the flood has caused nearly $1.5 million in damage to schools, supplies, and equipment.

For example, a dike broke behind a building where the district stores most of its paper, and North High School suffered extensive water damage, said Superintendent Gary Wegenke.

While assistance from the federal and state emergency-management agencies and the district's sewer insurance will probably cover the cost of repairs and of new supplies, said Mr. Wegenke, athletics and other school programs probably will be disrupted for part of the year due to the state of the school grounds.

But North High School--like most schools in Missouri--is expected to open on schedule, he added.

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