School Climate & Safety

FEMA Site Shows Recovery Money

By Lesli A. Maxwell — February 22, 2008 2 min read
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The federal office that oversees recovery along the Gulf Coast has created a Web site that features details on federal funding set aside to rebuild, repair, or replace the more than 100 New Orleans school campuses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The project is intended to offer a clearer picture of how much the government is spending to rebuild public schools in the city, officials said. Called the Transparency Initiative, the Web site plots individual school buildings on a map of New Orleans, and, for now, provides two specific dollar amounts for each campus.

One figure represents how much money has been allocated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The second represents how much of the FEMA funding has been “drawn down” by local school officials for spending or for reimbursement. The map also indicates which school buildings are open and which ones remain closed.

FEMA Public Assistance Grant Funding Map

This map above, and accompanying Web site, provide detailed information about the funding that FEMA has provided to the State of Louisiana for schools within the RSD and OPSB.

Map image courtesy of FEMA.

In most cases, the figures do not represent the total amount of money necessary to rebuild and repair schools, said Karen Burke, the deputy superintendent of operations for the Recovery School District, which runs most of the city’s schools. Since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, the district has spent roughly $170 million on construction, she said.

The mapping tool—created by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding—is meant to be the first piece of a much larger project that will outline federal spending on recovery efforts across the entire region affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and across other sectors such as police and fire agencies.

Federal officials said they intend to provide more data on schools as they receive it, including other federal sources of recovery funds, such as grants provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“There has been this void in answering ‘Where’s the holdup?’ ” on recovery efforts, said Donald E. Powell, the federal coordinator appointed by President Bush to oversee rebuilding along the Gulf Coast. “If you’re a stakeholder, you’ll be able to see where it is. This is a tool for both transparency and accountability.”

‘Incredibly Relevant’

Mr. Powell said providing information on New Orleans schools first made sense because they are key to the rebuilding of neighborhoods. The fate of all of New Orleans’ public schools—those already open and those that remain closed—will be decided later this year, when a citywide master plan for school facilities is completed.

Angela W. Daliet, the executive director of Save Our Schools New Orleans, a nonprofit group founded after Katrina to support the opening of high-quality public schools in every neighborhood, said the information is critical.

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“This is incredibly relevant information,” said Ms. Daliet, whose organization recently launched its own Web site, www. sosnola.org, to provide detailed information on every public school in the city. “It’s only fair for our public to see these figures and have a bigger picture to see where every school stands. This is information we’ve been struggling to get ourselves.”

Ms. Daliet said the information on the federal site will likely raise more questions than it answers. “But to have this information now allows us to ask questions that we may not have known to ask,” she said, “and challenge things and hold people accountable.”

Paul G. Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District, called the mapping tool “an honest attempt at transparency.”

He praised FEMA for changes to rules that have speeded up reimbursements and allowed the district more flexibility in how it spends the federal disaster aid.

A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2008 edition of Education Week as FEMA Site Shows Recovery Money


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