School of hard knocks: CPSB still grappling with massive hurricane recovery

Published 10:00 am Saturday, January 14, 2023

By Emily Burleigh

American Press

The Calcasieu Parish school district is still in the throes of hurricane recovery. Wilfred Bourne, Calcasieu Parish School Board chief financial officer, presented a general overview of recovery progress at Tuesday’s Calcasieu Parish School Board meeting.

Significant progress has been made. However, due to the sheer scope of damage from the storms of 2020, there is still a significant amount of funding to be received and projects to be completed. “This was a really bad storm and our facilities stretch this parish from side-to-side, so for us, the potential for damage was great,” said Bourne.

All 76 campuses and active facilities experienced damages. The range of damages on these assets ranged from just under $1 million to over $20 million. The total projected cost for complete remediation is $425 million.

To offer scope, he expressed the general annual budget for CPSB is only $350 million.

Currently, CPSB has $210 million in obligations from The Federal Emergency Management Agency. A majority of this funding, approximately $150 million, is for remediation.

CPSB has not yet received all of their payments, he said. “The federal government has agreed that these were damages and they’re obligated to pay this at some point once we finish up with all the actual grant documentation and validation of expenditures.”

$166 million of the FEMA funds have been paid to CPSB through the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP). Bourne stated that GOHSEP serves as a “conduit for us to get the money from the federal government.” He explained that the state of La. is the primary recipient of the FEMA grant funding, and CPSB is the sub-grantee.

On Thursday, Jan. 12, $6,102,621.81 in additional FEMA funding for CPSB was announced by the office of U.S. Sen.Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Due to the expected delays from FEMA and high projected remediation cost, CPSB borrowed funding. “To accomplish the actual operations in the aftermath of the storm along the way, we had to borrow $150 million in 5 tranches of borrowing,” Bourne explained.

The average interest rate for the borrowed money is 2%, resulting in $4.59 million in interest fees that is still continuing today, he said. “There will be more interest that accrues there as we’re financing thisoperation.”

“It was just beyond our capability to finance this operation without borrowing money,” he said. “We didn’t have that kind of cash laying around.”

Once CPSB receives reimbursement from FEMA, the plan is to begin paying those loans back.

20% of CPSB’s planned construction projects have yet to be advertised. This delay is attributed to limited cash flow. “We are essentially managing cash from day to day as money comes in from GOHSEP and FEMA.”

He estimates that smaller projects should be advertised by the end of the quarter. “Some of that’s going to depend on whether we can get to a point where the reimbursements, money we’ve already spent, is going to start outpacing the money that we are spending on our open contracts.”

CPSB currently has 103 Project Worksheets. “These are essentially the claims that we have to receive our money from FEMA,” said Bourne. Forty-seven of these worksheets are in the initial product formulation phase, 56 have been submitted to FEMA and a handful “a little bit further along the way.”

Bourne stated that a more in-depth analysis will be presented at future budget committee meetings.