Ed­u­ca­tors out­line ef­forts to re­build schools, com­mu­ni­ties af­ter Har­vey

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Ale­jan­dra Matos

AUSTIN — It will cost Hum­ble In­de­pen­dent School District up to $40 mil­lion to re­pair King­wood High School af­ter it was in­un­dated with wa­ter from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey and its af­ter­math.

Su­per­in­ten­dent El­iz­a­beth Fa­gen is con­fi­dent the cost to fix the school will be less than build­ing a new fa­cil­ity.

The district is faced with mil­lions of dol­lars in other Har­vey-re­lated costs. Just bus­ing stu­dents from King­wood to other schools will cost the district $1.8 mil­lion this year. Schools also lost mil­lions in text­books and in­stru­ments.

“Our fam­i­lies have gone through a cat­a­strophic ex­pe­ri­ence,” Fa­gen told state law­mak­ers at a House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee meet­ing Thurs­day.

Fa­gen and school of­fi­cials from 13 other school sys­tems de­scribed their ef­forts lead­ing up to the storm, how they re­sponded to the dam­age and chal­lenges they still face. State law­mak­ers are try­ing to get a full grasp of the fi­nan­cial toll the storm will have on schools.

Early es­ti­mates from the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency show the state will need at least $1.64 bil­lion to pay for Har­vey-re­lated costs. Texas Ed­u­ca­tion

Com­mis­sioner Mike Mo­rath said that num­ber is far from fi­nal.

The TEA es­ti­mates in­clude $400 mil­lion for school dis­tricts that ex­pe­ri­enced a re­duc­tion in en­roll­ment, along with a loss of $974 mil­lion that the state nor­mally re­ceives from wealth­ier dis­tricts to re­dis­tribute to low-in­come dis­tricts, known as the “Robin Hood” pro­gram.

“The im­me­di­ate storm was epic and dis­as­trous,” Mo­rath said. More than 1.4 mil­lion stu­dents at­tend schools in dis­tricts di­rectly af­fected by the storm, he noted.

Two school sys­tems, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas, re­main closed. Their stu­dents are be­ing bused to other dis­tricts in the area.

Fort Bend ISD has more than $8.5 mil­lion in dam­age to a one build­ing alone. It did not have flood in­sur­ance.

School of­fi­cials told law­mak­ers they do not have a full handle on how much they will have to pay as a re­sult of the storm. Dis­tricts are wait­ing to find out how much they will re­ceive from in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

At the state level, Mo­rath is wait­ing to see what im­pact the storm will have on prop­erty val­ues and en­roll­ment.

It re­mains un­clear where the state will get the bil­lions needed to pay Har­vey-re­lated costs. Mo­rath said he is con­fi­dent the state can cover the costs in the short term. One of the big­gest ques­tions fac­ing lo­cal dis­tricts is how lower prop­erty val­ues could im­pact their op­er­at­ing rev­enues.

Hous­ton ISD Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Rene Bara­jas said the school district still is cal­cu­lat­ing its to­tal cost but that 200 of its 287 cam­puses were im­pacted by the storm. Six schools have not yet re­opened, and the district is un­sure if it will re­pair those fa­cil­i­ties or con­struct new build­ings.

Given the fi­nan­cial toll, Bara­jas said the district is not plan­ning to re­assess prop­erty val­ues.

That means home­own­ers in Hous­ton will con­tinue to pay school taxes on the pre-Har­vey value of their homes, even if they have been sig­nif­i­cantly dam­aged or de­stroyed by the storm.

Bara­jas said early model­ing shows the district could lost $35 mil­lion to $40 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enues if it were to re-eval­u­ate prop­erty val­ues.

State Rep. Dwayne Bo­hac, RHous­ton, chal­lenged Bara­jas and the district to con­sider the tax­payer when de­cid­ing whether to re-eval­u­ate prop­erty val­ues.

“While you may not have the money, the tax­payer may not ei­ther,” Bo­hac said. “The tax­payer is the ul­ti­mate boss. … They pay the bills.”

Jon Shap­ley / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle file

King­wood High teacher Dee Ju­lian and her hus­band, R.J., re­move teach­ing sup­plies from her for­mer class­room two weeks af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey in­un­dated the school.

Jon Shap­ley / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle file

Dee Ju­lian and other King­wood High teach­ers were given 45 min­utes to visit their class­rooms and re­move items af­ter Har­vey hit in or­der to take them to their new cam­pus, Sum­mer Creek High School.

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