Florence Damage to North Carolina Schools Could Exceed Matthew’s

By ALEX DEROSIER | October 5, 2018

North Carolina’s public school officials expect damage from Hurricane Florence to well exceed school losses after Hurricane Matthew two years ago, a Department of Public Instruction official told the state’s board of education Wednesday.

After receiving a record number of claims, the state’s public school insurance fund has set aside $40 million for school districts and community colleges damaged by Florence, nearly three times more than the $14 million it paid out for Matthew.

“This hurricane has produced claims in excess of what the fund has ever seen before,” the fund’s director, Eileen Townsend, told the N.C. Board of Education, explaining the fund had so far received 125 claims, some for millions of dollars.

Claims after Matthew were mainly for flooding, but Florence caused more structural damage with winds and pounding rain, Townsend said.

More cost figures are beginning to trickle in as public schools continue to assess losses from September’s hurricane. School districts’ food service programs collectively lost $14 million in federal reimbursement and a minimum of $2 million in equipment and food loss, nutrition services chief Lynn Harvey told the board.

“This number is literally growing by the hour as our damage assessments are beginning to come into the agency,” Harvey said.

Damage estimates will become clearer as insurance adjusters reach schools that were still inaccessible last week because of flooding and road closures.

State education officials estimate 1.5 million K-12 public school students missed some amount of school because of Florence, and it still affects thousands of students in the eastern part of the state. Students still haven’t returned to class in seven counties. Some won’t be able to return to the same school they attended before the hurricane.

In eastern North Carolina, rural Jones County’s public school district condemned two of its six schools because of mold damage. A middle and elementary school received at least 3 feet (90 centimeters) of water in some places, Jones county school Superintendent Michael Bracy said.

Jones county faced heavy rainfall and severe flooding when Florence passed through the Carolinas last month. The county’s school district plans to move the destroyed schools’ 400 students to the districts’ four remaining schools.

Onslow County Schools spokesman Brent Anderson said Wednesday that system sustained $125 million in damages from the hurricane. Of its 38 schools, 28 received damages that required attention, and Anderson said all the schools were impacted by the storm in some way.

Anderson also said portions of three schools will be unusable because of the damages.

“We had some unprecedented damage. I’ve never seen damage the likes that we’ve seen from this storm,” Anderson said.

When school starts again in New Hanover County on Thursday, where Florence made landfall last month, many will return to class in storm-damaged schools.

Even if the buildings are safe to enter, it’ll be tough to start teaching students again, said New Hanover County Association of Educators president Barbara Anderson.

In one school whose cafeteria lost part of its roof students will have to eat in classrooms until permanent repairs are made, Anderson said.

In badly damaged schools, teachers will have to completely redo and resupply their classrooms.

“Some schools have it worse than others; they’ve actually had flooding,” Anderson said. Those schools are the ones whose teachers have lost everything in their classroom.”

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