Eighteen months after Katrina, education is hardly back to normal in the affected communities
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
In January, members of the Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP)--a group of educational technology companies and organizations that is helping to rebuild damaged Gulf Coast schools as 21st-century learning environments--toured the Mississippi Gulf Coast and were surprised at what they saw: 18 months after Katrina struck, there is still much rebuilding to be done.
February 15, 2007—A year and a half after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, destroying schools and displacing students, school leaders are still struggling to rebuild damaged facilities and technology infrastructures.
In January, members of the Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP) Team--a coalition of ed-tech companies and organizations that is helping to rebuild Gulf Coast schools as 21st-century learning facilities--took a tour of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and were surprised by what they saw.
"[We were] stunned at the lack of progress in getting recovery to these folks," said Terry Smithson, education strategist for Intel Corp. and leader of the HELP Team. "In some places, it still looks like a bomb has gone off."
Guided by Sandra Reed, a Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District administrator, team members saw up close the damage that still exists after nearly a year and a half.
All buildings in the six-school Bay St. Louis-Waveland district took on water from Katrina's storm surge or from extensive roof damage. Infrastructure for both the wide-area and local-area networks was destroyed, and servers and most computers and monitors throughout the district were damaged beyond repair.
The district's loss of buildings and contents has been estimated at $40 million. Insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will cover some, but not all, of the cost, according to the district's web site. That includes rebuilding two elementary schools and renovating other schools. The district has been able
to replace only 120 computers so far, out of 800 lost.
While FEMA and other recovery agencies say that monetary assistance has been distributed to schools, local school and district officials say they have not necessarily received the money earmarked for their rebuilding and recovery.
About a year has gone by since Congress authorized the bulk of its rebuilding aid for the region, and nearly six months have passed since President Bush visited New Orleans on the anniversary of the storm and extolled the "amazing" reconstruction effort.
But a review of the devastated region shows that rebuilding is in a deep stall. Tens of thousands of residents remain displaced as authorities dither over how to disburse housing assistance. Many crucial infrastructure projects have yet to start. Of the tens of billions appropriated by
Congress, half remains unspent.
According to the White House, the federal government has provided $110 billion for the Gulf Coast region. But nowhere near that amount of actual cash has been made available. The total is spread over five states and covers damage done by three separate storms. Some of it consists of loans. A chunk comes from government insurance payouts that ultimately derived from
premiums paid by homeowners themselves.
Of $42 billion given to FEMA, the agency has spent only $25 billion, federal records show. Most of that went to temporary housing, debris removal, and emergency operations in the early days of the disaster. It has spent more than $4 billion on administrative costs.
Louisiana says the Army Corps of Engineers has spent only about $1.3 billion of the $5.8 billion it received to repair the levees in and around New Orleans. Only about $1.7 billion of the $17 billion received by the Department of Housing and Urban Development has made its way to the streets, the agency says.
In New Orleans, officials say they have received only about 14 percent of the estimated $900 million in reconstruction money they figure is needed to fix the ruined city. "We have lots of meetings," says Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, the city's liaison with FEMA.
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