Galveston County school district officials told state lawmakers Monday they are worried about Hurricane Harvey’s lingering effects on district finances and accountability ratings.
Meanwhile, the state’s top education official told the Senate Education Committee during the same hearing in Houston that Harvey had been a $400 million setback for school districts in the disaster area.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County. It dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of this county, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding an estimated 20,000 homes in the county and devastating parts of Houston.
Education officials described issues with everything from Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements to upcoming state finance funding problems as they recover from the damage wrought by the storm.
The storm displaced as many as 40,000 county residents, many of who are still living in places other than their homes. School officials told lawmakers the storm was complicating the statistical reporting school districts are required to do and are judged upon.
“We believe 3,000 students’ homes were damaged by the flooding, but we aren’t sure,” Dickinson Superintendent Vicki Mims said. “About 1,100 students were made homeless by the storm.”
Mims joined representatives for Clear Creek and Galveston school districts, in addition to districts around the region, in testifying to the committee about Harvey recovery efforts.
Dickinson’s enrollment was down 146 students since the storm, and district officials have had difficulty accounting for 29 of them, which could undermine district accountability scores, Mims said.
The district is busy rebuilding and can’t dedicate resources to finding the 29 students, Mims said.
About 350 employees’ homes flooded during Harvey, Mims said.
“When you’re a district in a small town, people are going to turn to you in moments like this,” Mims said.
Clear Creek Independent School District, meanwhile, anticipates between $18.9 million and $19.4 million in damage to facilities because of the storm, Superintendent Greg Smith said.
“Harvey also left 2,700 students homeless,” Smith said. “That number will probably increase.”
Clear Creek has spent about $54,000 on substitute teachers while its employees try to rebuild, Smith said.
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Morath also testified, outlining problems Harvey-affected districts faced, including the potential loss of funding because of declining student populations or property values.
Morath estimated it would cost Texas about $400 million to help the districts with recapture.
The storm displaced families, who have sought temporary residence in hotels, shelters and housing in the county and elsewhere, disrupting the start of school and shaking up enrollment.
Student population is particularly critical to school districts because it’s one of the primary ways the Texas Education Agency determines their funding.
The possibility of losing more funding comes at a time when school boards across Galveston County are forced to adopt deficit budgets as they struggle with myriad issues. Those include a state system that funnels local tax money to districts with small tax bases, less state funding and the loss of other funding avenues.
Because property values — another critical factor determining district funding — are already calculated for the current year, districts would experience a loss of funding a year in the future, Morath said.
Galveston ISD Trustee Anthony Brown also testified before the committee, discussing potential issues related to FEMA funding districts might encounter.
“The only thing that’s certain about being ready for the next storm is that there won’t be another storm like this,” Brown said.
Galveston ISD is still seeking about $17 million in reimbursement money from Hurricane Ike-related damages, Brown said. Hurricane Ike struck in 2008.
“Generations of auditors have seen us through this process,” Brown said. “Our people have retired who understood it. They told us it takes an average of eight years.”
Aransas Pass Superintendent Mark Kemp told the committee his district was already on its second FEMA auditor.
Almost half of Galveston’s fund balance is tied up in the reimbursements it is still expecting from FEMA, Brown said.
“This is ridiculous,” Sen. Paul Bettencourt said.
Education officials also requested special consideration when it comes to state accountability standards, but Sen. Larry Taylor said that needed to be balanced to make sure districts are still maintaining high standards.