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Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent James Gray, second from right, and State Superintendent Cade Brumley, second from let, look at the buckled gym floor at Stella Worley Jr. High as they evaluate how much work needs to be done last month in the wake of Hurricane Ida. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Just two of the four school districts hardest hit by Hurricane Ida face repairs of about $150 million, superintendents told the Senate Education Committee.

The two are the Lafourche Parish School District, $100 million in repairs; and the St. Charles School District, around $50 million.

Lafourche Parish Superintendent Jarod Martin said that, for the sake of context, the district's annual budget is about $160 million.

"We've got challenges and almost all of them are financial," Martin told the committee Tuesday.

The Lafourche, St. Charles, Jefferson and Terrebonne school systems suffered the most damages when the Category 4 hurricane arrived on Aug. 29, state officials said.

No damage estimates have been publicly disclosed for the Jefferson and Terrebonne districts.

Martin said South Lafourche High School alone will require about $26 million to repair.

In the meantime, he said, plans call for students to return to the school next month in classrooms that consist of bare sheetrock, concrete and light bulbs.

"It will not look the way it did when we left," Martin said.

Ken Oertling, superintendent of the St. Charles Parish school system, said damages there will range from $40 million to $50 million.

Oertling said that, before the storm, all 10,000 or so students were given a Chromebook device in hopes their education could continue after the the storm. "That is not an option," he said.

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Oertling said families "are looking where they are going to get their next meal, do they have air conditioning in their house."

Some students will have missed 42 days by the time they return to classes.

"First and foremost Hurricane Ida was by far the most tragic and impactful event St. Charles has ever experienced," he told the committee.

One of the thorniest topics will be whether damaged districts qualify for a waiver on required school minutes.

State law limits such exceptions to just a few cases, such as when multiple schools have to operate in a single building.

Martin said if he has to tell residents of Lafourche Parish that classes will continue until July, "I don't think that is going to be met well in the community."

"It is going to be seen as not understanding what the community has been through," he said.

Brumley said the only waivers, covering non-academic issues, were approved on an emergency basis by Sandy Holloway, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and set for official approval by BESE Oct. 12-13. That includes waivers on the purchase of school buses, classroom ratios and rules for special education students.

Brumley said about 70,000 students remained out of school Tuesday after a high of about 300,000 right after the storm.

He noted that reopening classrooms requires power, running water, environmental tests, checks on the structure of the building, adequate staff, plentiful commodities for school cafeterias and functioning buses.

"It is quite an operation to get schools up and running,' Brumley said.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.