Educators outline efforts to rebuild schools, communities after Harvey
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.”
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.
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.