Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and nine House members stopped by the Pass Christian school campus to see the progress of recovery, almost two years after Katrina decimated the school district.
The program began with a moving video presentation, showing Katrina's devastation. Pass Christian Superintendent Dr. Sue Matheson said she had to take some tough tactics against the Army Corps of Engineers to get the trailers in, so she could open school after the storm. Staff members also shared stories of fighting with FEMA for funding.
The strongest words came from Bay-Waveland Superintendent Dr. Kim Stasny. She blamed the constant changes in FEMA staff for the reason her district has not been able to rebuild schools.
"Most were interested in proving that they can squeeze more from the school district than their predecessor and this has sent us into a financial death spiral," Dr. Kim Stasny said. "If customer satisfaction ratings were placed on FEMA today, like No Child Left Behind accountability is put on us, they would not get passing marks."
After the speeches, the House members toured several classrooms that are still in trailers.
"Everything you're doing to invest in children is about their future, and some of it is rough sledding, as you've all been through," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "But making decisions for now and for the future, I can't think of anything more patriotic than that, and that certainly was reflected in your presentation. It's a commitment to children to their future, to our great country, and for that we are all in your debt and owe you a response to the concerns that you have brought to our attention."
Dr. Matheson asked the House members to help schools by:
- Passing legislation to speed up FEMA's processes.
- Extend the Federal Restart Funds beyond the December deadline, so districts can continue to pay teachers.
- Federally subsidize an insurance program to cover both wind and water.
- Promote tax incentives to encourage the construction of affordable housing.
Dr. Stasny submitted these following requests from FEMA:
- Expand the standards through which reasonable costs are established to take into account all factors.
- Headquarters should honor critical decisions made by local FEMA leadership and field personnel in the weeks and months immediately following a disaster.
- Assign an education advisor to help school districts after a disaster.
The delegation also toured the city of Pass Christian, and visited a FEMA trailer. On Monday night, the House members took part in a town hall meeting in Bay St. Louis. Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor hosted the visit.