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City Council Lauds DOE's Sandy Recovery Efforts, Though Substantial Work Still Remains

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City Council praised the Department of Education for its work in the aftermath of Sandy on Tuesday, but DOE officials said there's still a lot of questions that remain unanswered. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Hurricane Sandy damaged 72 schools, destroyed 300 buses and displaced 75,000 students. The Department of Education faced unprecedented challenges after the storm.

But Tuesday, some of the DOE's most vocal critics under usual circumstances said the department dealt with their circumstances very well.

"As my colleagues said, they are so used to being critical of DOE and I don't hear any criticisms today at all," Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson said.

"They did an incredible job of turning those schools around, engaging the parents and the school community," Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich said.

Working around the clock, school construction crews, contractors and custodians had every school building re-opened by mid-January. The DOE estimates it cost $175 million.

"You got the schools open as quickly as any reasonable person could hope," Brooklyn Councilman Lewis Fidler said.

But the quick fixes mask the more substantial damage, and those repairs are taking longer than school officials had hoped for.

There are 50 schools that require serious repairs, like new boilers, wiring or water heaters.

Each of those schools requires the DOE to develop a plan of action with FEMA, and FEMA has made initial visits to only 8 of the 50 to date.

"We are working very closely with them and OMB (Office of Management and Budget) to move this much more quickly," Lorraine Grillo of the School Construction Authority said.

Grillo said they hope it will take only months.

The DOE says it expects those permanent repairs to be very expensive.

"On the long range side, we are still in the process of understanding what FEMA will and won't pay for," Grillo said.

Although all the schools are open, many of the students are still displaced from their homes.

The DOE says 1,300 students are still attending a different school than they went to before the storm.

Besides all the construction costs, the DOE announced Tuesday a $1.3 million grant to boost counseling, mentoring and social services at 30 of the hardest hit schools, because although students may be back in the school buildings, things aren't back to normal.

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