Legislators are working on bills that would help schools in areas where tornadoes and floods struck last year. Mary Gannon of the Iowa Association of Schools Boards says Cedar Rapids officials believe dozens of students didn’t show up for classes this past fall because they’re living outside the district now — either with family or in a FEMA trailer.
"Those families who were living in the area that flooded, we assume the vast majority of them will come back and rebuild," Gannon says.
One proposal under consideration would change the state financing formala and forward Cedar Rapids and other Iowa school districts in a disaster zone the same amount of general state aid they received last year, so the schools aren’t dealing with budget cuts at the same time they’re trying to repair or rebuild after tornadoes, flooding or even a fire.
"So basically it allows them to maintain funding while they’re going through that fluctuation in enrollment, until it stabilizes itself," Gannon says.
The Iowa Association of School Boards is also urging legislators to make these proposals law for all disaster-struck schools — now and in the future — rather than just the schools hit by last year’s natural disasters. "This is not the first time we’ve had natural disasters hit schools," Gannon says. "We’ve had schools that were shut down for other reasons — fires, etc. — so this would actually help us in other situations."
Area Education Agencies are also asking for a change in state law so when AEA facilities are damaged, they can quickly hire contractors to make repairs.
Ron Fielder is head of the Grand Wood Area Education Agency in Cedar Rapids which serves nearly 70,000 students at schools in the region. He says while schools got to bypass the state law which requires waiting period for contractors to submit bids, his AEA had to wait to start repairs. "We waited all of the adequate time frames and as a result, probably our construction was delayed two to three months," Fielder says.
Water flooded into the Grant Wood AEA building this past June and remained for about three days. "We had Prairie Creek that backed up in the southwest part of Cedar Rapids because the river was rising and the creek had no where to go and it kept raining," Fielder says. "We have a facility that’s about an acre under roof, a one-story building, and it filled with about a foot and a half of water."
Fielder and his staff "saved" about $10 million worth of property — things like computers and office supplies — by moving it to higher ground before the flood waters swamped the building.
But Fielder says the flood damage to the facility is still significant. "Whether you’ve got a foot-and-a-half or five feet (of water) — carpet, drywall, (and) ceiling tile all has to come out," Fielder says.
Fielder hopes to have the building completely ready by this summer.