Funds May Not Flow as Expected Post Tornado

Dallas ISD, insurers disagree over extent of damage to some campuses

Dallas ISD administrators thought that insurance would cover all but the $2 million deductible to replace three schools heavily damaged by the Oct. 20 tornado. A recent school board briefing revealed that might not be the case.

And the news wasn’t much better for the city of Dallas, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency is only counting about $32.7 million of the estimated expenses, far below the $38.4 million threshold required for a presidential disaster declaration.

So far, city officials said the city has about $45 million in uninsured damage from the tornado, but only has an emergency reserve fund of $35 million. The city is still working on finishing cleanup and inspections of damages, and Gov. Greg Abbott asked FEMA to extend its deadline to Dec. 20. 

City facilities such as the Walnut Hill Recreation Center and a fire station at Walnut Hill and Marsh lanes sustained substantial damage, and the firehouse at Preston and Royal was destroyed.

“The rush is that this community was harmed significantly overnight, and building schools takes time.” — Michael Hinojosa

At its simplest explanation, FEMA funds would help offset uninsured costs. Dallas has a $750,000 deductible.

That federal money will also come into play for Dallas ISD, too, which has three heavily damaged schools to replace – Walnut Hill Elementary, Cary Middle School, and Thomas Jefferson High School. 

District officials are now expecting about $60 million to $70 million in insurance reimbursements, but rebuilding could top $100 million, officials told the school board on Dec. 5. 

The district considers Thomas Jefferson and Walnut Hill as total losses. However, the insurance company so far is saying the two have “significant” damage, unlike Cary, which was a total loss and will remain closed permanently.

“We will not get full replacement costs, so we’ll have to come up with some bond dollars, or fund balance, or some kind of reimbursing resolution like we did with the bridge fund,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the board.

Officials said they want to have replacement schools open by August 2022, because the longer students are bussed further from their neighborhoods, the more likely the district will lose students to private and charter schools. 

“The rush is that this community was harmed significantly overnight, and building schools takes time,” Hinojosa said. “If we don’t start now, we will be much further behind.”

Thomas Jefferson students relocated to the formerly empty Edison Learning Center in West Dallas, and Walnut Hill students are at Field Elementary. 

The district is also looking at where to put Cary students, who are split between Medrano Middle School and Franklin Middle School.

One idea: turning five elementary schools in the Thomas Jefferson feeder pattern into Pre-K through sixth-grade schools, with Medrano Middle School serving seventh- and eighth-grade and KB Polk and Walnut Hill becoming Pre-K through eighth.

Watch for more about district plans for the three campuses moving forward at PrestonHollowPeople.com.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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