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Recovery School District repair allocation OK'd

Several lawmakers expressed theirdispleasure about how it's run, but a legislative budget committeefinally agreed to let the Recovery School District move ahead with$163 million in repairs to hurricane-damaged schools in NewOrleans.

The construction money comes from the federal government - 90percent from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and theremaining 10 percent from Community Development Block Grants. Itwill be used to repair, maintain and, in some cases, demolishpublic schools that sustained damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Since the money flows through the state Office of HomelandSecurity and Emergency Preparedness, the Joint LegislativeCommittee on the Budget must give its approval before it can bespent.

Friday's approval came after several lawmakers complained to thestate-run school district about its contracting practices andaccused its officials of doing a poor job of communicating with theLegislature.

Several lawmakers were dismayed that the school district amendedits contract with Jacobs Engineering, which is overseeing theconstruction program. The contract was originally for $18 million,but has grown to $28 million as the company's duties have expanded.

Lona Edwards Hankins, director of capital improvements for theschool district, said Jacobs has been instrumental in identifyingrepairs that can be billed to FEMA's public assistance program.

Rep. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Central, wondered why the additionalwork wasn't put out to bid so that other companies could competefor the work.

Others complained that neither state Superintendent of EducationPaul Pastorek nor Recovery School District chief Paul Vallasappeared before the committee to answer questions when so muchmoney was at stake.

"It's really a disservice to us to not have Mr. Pastorek or Mr.Vallas here for something so significant," said House Speaker ProTem Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans.

Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, accused the school district ofmoving too slowly to return properties it is not using to theOrleans Parish School Board.

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