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School district provides update on Hurricane Ian funds

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Feb 9, 2024

Caloosa Elementary School off Del Prado Boulevard was tarped following Hurricane Ian. FILE/VALARIE HARRING

The School District of Lee County currently has received $11.44 million from FEMA for emergency work.

Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier said this week the district has been blessed, with the help of the federal delegation, to have received an avenue to have FEMA on the phone with them during conversations regarding recovery updates from Hurricane Ian.

“It does help us to be in the position to talk directly to FEMA leadership,” he said, adding that it has been very valuable to the district, and he is very thankful.

The current projection of funding for the district is $5.2 million for flood insurance coverage, $75 million for property insurance coverage, FEMA Public Assistance Cost Share of $116.8 million, state public assistance cost share of $12 million, Lee County shelter claim reimbursement for $1.2 million and legislature – capital appropriation of $17.5 million.

The district’s estimated out of pocket expense is $48.4 million, which includes tax revenue losses and estimated cost of Hector A Cafferata Elementary School transitioning to a K-8 school.

Bernier said with public institutions, FEMA requires the school to be put back in place as it originally was. He said the addition of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade is aligned with their capital plan.

“We want to be transparent that building a K-8 that we will get a lot of money to rebuild but won’t get it all,” Bernier said, adding that there is an out-of-pocket expense to add middle school grades to the school. “We want to note that you are getting a K-8 when only lost an elementary school.”

He said the former Hector A. Cafferata Elementary School has not been taken down yet because they are waiting for full approval from FEMA.

“If we take it down without their final approval, we run the risk of them saying we would like to look at one more thing,” Bernier said.

Imperium Consulting Group Director Joseph Mascali said although the district did have campuses impacted by flooding, the majority of the damage was wind and rain driven damage.

The NFIP flood insurance coverage was for Fort Myers Beach Elementary School, Sanibel Elementary School, Lexington Middle School, and Diplomat Middle School. Total payments so far include 81 checks for $5.2 million.

He said the FEMA public assistance is the payer of last resort.

“Since our last meeting, FEMA cost share, which typically is 75 cents on the dollar has increased to 90 cents on the dollar. It helps yield some additional funding quicker through FEMA through the state,” Mascali said.

He said normally the state will pay half of the remaining cost share.

“In a 75%, 25% scenario, the state would pick up 12.5%. Since it moved from a 90% to 10% disaster, they would normally pick up 5%,” Mascali said.

With a piece of legislation passing for a waiver program, he said, it allows the opportunity for the remaining 5% to be paid for by the state. Mascali said this effectively makes the district whole for eligible expenses made through the FEMA pipeline.

Mascali said the district has issued $110 million for purchase orders.

“The district has made some significant payments of approximately $20 million to workers out in the field,” he said. “This has created a bit of a deficit. Currently based on receipts of funds there is a $5.85 million shortfall.”

Mascali said there is money on the way.

“The state has everything it needs from the district — how to distribute the funds and dot some I’s and cross T’s. We are hoping in short order back in the black,” he said with some windfall funding.

Mascali said they are working with the federal delegation on a few issues pertaining to FEMA claims. He said they have reviewed their calculations, one of which is the project that pertains to remediation to contracts that came in immediately after the hurricane.

“FEMA was not taking into account the district’s deductible,” Mascali said, which equates to $3 million of additional funding for the project.

Imperium Consulting Group Managing Director Kipp Nelson said there were more than 1,000 damage elements at different locations that were initially identified. That number was calculated down to 800, which again decreased.

There are 192 active FEMA projects, which are projects that FEMA, Florida Department of Emergency Management and the district have agreed upon.

“We have gone through 94 site inspections,” Nelson said.

He said $11.44 million has been received in emergency work, which includes such areas as cleaning debris and temporary work to stabilize buildings.