Hurricane Irma Cost Duval Schools $1 Million; District Asks State For Reimbursement Help

Dec 13, 2017

District Superintendent of Operations Don Nelson says Atlantic Coast High's $250,000 generator is needed for school, which doubles as a medical storm shelter.
Credit Duval County Public Schools

The Duval County School Board is asking for state funding to help cover costs associated with converting schools into hurricane shelters and storm damage. The district spent $1,041,834 on schools before and after Hurricane Irma.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

“What we have to do is we have to front the money out of our budget and then wait on FEMA to reimburse us and that can take up to three years,” board member Becki Couch said.

The district is still waiting on federal reimbursement from Hurricane Matthew. But it doesn't get reimbursed for every dime spent on shelter-ready schools, for example they don’t get paid back for much of the required maintenance.

“For example we store all of the cots and mats for the hurricane shelters in our warehouse space,” Couch said. “We have to have big enough warehouse space and pay for that out of our budget.”

Credit Duval County Public Schools

That includes 1,335 special needs cots, 1,235 standard cots and 800 sleeping mats. According to a district presentation, generators are also included in maintenance costs. Four generators that can power shelters are due to be replaced with each one costing about $125,000. But other generators, like the one at Atlantic Coast High, which is a medical shelter, costs a quarter-of-a million dollars.

State law requires local governments designate buildings such as schools to be able to double as storm shelters. Eleven Duval schools served as shelters during Irma, with 2,407 people occupying them, according to district data.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

Pre-storm preparations included delivering all the supplies and also shuttering the shelters following the hurricane. Shuttering alone was $87,801. During the storm, the shelters had to be staffed with administrators, police and others. Post-storm shelter cleanup was $161,513 of the total $954,000 post-storm bill.

“We don’t go in and spray things down with Lysol,” Couch said. “We actually have to treat it as if it’s MRSA, so we have to do a deep cleaning of the shelters,”

State Rep. Jason Fischer (right) and Duval Superintendent Patricia Willis tour Atlantic Coast High, a medical shelter during Hurricane Irma.
Credit Duval County Public Schools

The district is fronting part of the costs from their capital budget, and staffing comes out of general revenue.

The district has long complained about a backlog of maintenance projects due to old schools and not enough capital funding. The state has a cap on how much the district can tax for capital projects. In addition, a new education law requires districts share some of their capital dollars with charter schools, which are public but privately managed. Couch pointed out charters aren’t required to double as storm shelters.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

Duval is asking lawmakers for financial assistance for emergency generators and improving its shelter shuttering system.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.