The suffering of children is often overlooked when adults discuss the havoc wrought by Hurricane Sandy. While there is justifiable focus on rebuilding homes, replacing cars, getting hospitals back in service, restoring businesses and fixing roads and utilities — even on designing new boardwalks — less attention is paid to the catastrophic impact Sandy had, and continues to have, on our schools.
Several school districts in our area are faced with the tremendous task of rebuilding schools and district infrastructure, replacing equipment and restoring the educational environment students and teachers depend on. Many repairs have already been completed, but paying for the work is still a critical issue.
We think Albany has a responsibility to help, and has the federal funds to do it.
Lawrence High School was the most heavily damaged of that district’s five schools. Flooding from Sandy created two sink holes, left the auditorium a huge mess and wreaked havoc with the electrical system. The high school has been closed since Jan. 15, and its students, teachers and administrators were relocated to the middle school. As a result, the district’s fifth- and sixth-graders had to be moved to two district elementary schools.
In the Long Beach district, the high school gym was severely damaged, and there was widespread flooding in the middle school and Lido Elementary. Lindell Elementary took on water as well, and East Elementary’s gym floor needed major repairs. The flooding in West Elementary was up to four feet deep, while the administration building and Blackheath Pre-K are beyond repair and will be condemned.
In Oceanside, there was millions of dollars’ worth of damage, with elementary schools 4, 8 and 9E, and the middle school, 9M, hit hard. Most musical instruments were lost, many interactive whiteboards needed to be replaced, and textbooks and library materials were wiped out. The boiler in School 8 was destroyed, and there were damaged walls and floors everywhere.
In Island Park, the situation was even worse. Both schools lost their boilers, the gym in the Lincoln Orens Middle School was destroyed and the damage to the cafeteria, auditorium and chorus rooms was extensive. The Francis X. Hegarty School most likely will not reopen this year. The district lost all of its musical instruments, and its offices had to be moved to a BOCES building.
Few of the buildings in the East Rockaway School District escaped without severe damage. The high school was flooded, and saltwater all but destroyed the boiler and the electrical system. A sink hole opened behind the high school’s new addition, ruining an electrical transformer. The Rhame Avenue School sustained first-floor flooding and it, too, lost its boilers. Its gym floor and classroom tile floors needed replacement.
Other districts experienced similar, truly once-in-a-lifetime losses.
Paying for all of the restoration work is something the children, obviously, have no control over. Unfortunately, the school administrations and Boards of Education can’t do much, either, without financial help.
Money from insurance policies, and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will be available at some point to fund part of the recovery. But it’s likely that property owners in the most damaged districts will be called on to pay for what loans and other sources of funds don’t cover. Districts with the worst damage are in communities where homes and businesses suffered the heaviest losses as well.
So many schoolchildren in these districts experienced the trauma of being evacuated from their homes, living in motels or with relatives far from their friends, losing their precious possessions and, in some cases, learning that they could never return to the houses in which they grew up. It is unfair to expect their parents and other residents to suffer even more by paying higher taxes to repair their schools.
These districts are faced with extraordinary expenditures that no reserve fund could ever be expected to cover. Reserves are rainy-day funds, not 100-year-storm funds. We believe that the state — which is quick to burden districts with mandates but slow to offer them the aid to help pay for those mandates — has a responsibility to earmark some of the federal Sandy relief funds it will control for the recovery of the hardest-hit school districts on Long Island.