While working toward rebuilding three campuses still shuttered by the August flood, Livingston Parish school officials are facing another hurdle as they prepare for the next academic year: a significant drop in student population that will trigger a reduction in state funding – and layoffs.
The financial impact of the record-breaking flooding on the school system is still unclear, although cost projections from DMS Disaster Consultants suggest the district could be facing a total bill upwards of $120 million if the three closed campuses are completely rebuilt at a cost of $20 million apiece.
The school system’s share of the total bill will be higher than the typical 10 percent the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not cover, due to penalties for the School Board’s failure to maintain flood insurance.
How much higher is uncertain. The National Flood Insurance Program penalty is generally assessed on a per-building basis, but after prior disasters like Hurricane Katrina, it has been occasionally reduced by legislation to a per-site fee.
On campuses like Denham Springs High School, which has 23 buildings, the difference could be substantial.
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Budgeting for those unknowns has been difficult enough, Superintendent Rick Wentzel said during a recent interview. But added to the mix was a significant drop in student population over the past nine months.
The district lost more than 500 students after the flood, according to figures Wentzel provided. Parishwide enrollment on Oct. 1, less than a month after the schools reopened, was 25,418, compared to 25,994 in 2015. The spring semester count on Feb. 1 showed a similar loss: 25,395 enrolled this year compared to 25,843 last year.
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The 2 percent drop in enrollment will translate to a loss of about $2.5 million to $3 million in state funding for the 2017-18 school year, Wentzel said.
As a result, about 40 teaching positions will be stripped from the budget, he said.
While attrition will take care of some of the losses, some teachers also have been told their contracts will not be renewed for the upcoming year, he said.
The most significant reductions will be in the areas hardest hit by the flooding. Denham Springs and Southside elementaries, both still shuttered, will lose half a dozen teachers apiece, according to staffing estimates Wentzel provided. Denham Springs Junior High, Freshman High and High schools will lose another six positions, total. Southside Junior High, which also remains closed, will lose two.
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District officials also face lingering uncertainties over whether FEMA will require them to repair or allow them to build anew the three shuttered campuses, Wentzel said. The temporary sites for those schools are likely to be used for at least another two years, regardless of the outcome of those negotiations, he said.
School Board member Buddy Mincey Jr., part of the board’s Denham Springs delegation, said there are still too many unknowns for officials to speculate how those issues will be resolved.
“Right now, we’re just waiting for some additional information from NFIP and from FEMA,” Mincey said. “All indications, for me, are that we will rebuild. I have no doubts about that. But the timing and completion of that rebuild is still unknown.”