The 2007 state comptroller's report on local authorities released Sunday reveals the decrepit condition of schools in two sectors: ultra-Orthodox and non-Jews.
"The main victims are the pupils, who study in unfit buildings that might even be damaging to their welfare and health," State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote.
Between February and July 2007, Lindenstrauss surveyed the condition of education facilities in 28 local authorities in the non-Jewish sector (Arabs, Druze and Bedouin), and the need for new buildings. He discovered a shortage of 1,082 classrooms at the start of the 2007/08 school year, 717 of these in schools and 365 in compulsory kindergartens. As a stop-gap measure, local authorities have to cram pupils into rented buildings and temporary structures, and make use of hallways, school offices, libraries, gyms and bomb shelters.
At many schools, the rented structures violated Education Ministry standards. For instance, an elementary school in Kafr Manda had three classrooms measuring 18.5 square meters, 16 sq.m. and 14 sq.m., while regulation size is 49 sq.m.
An examination of 100 schools found serious maintenance flaws, which caused frequent power failures and other problems. The report faulted local authorities for not arranging for an increased electricity supply.
Unhealthily excessive damp was found at 17 schools, including four schools in the city of Umm al-Fahm and four in the village of Maghar. In response, Umm al-Fahm's municipality told the comptroller that "sealing work was done at the four schools," and the Maghar local council said it is conducting repairs to the best of its ability.
"The findings in the review of the physical infrastructure of education facilities in the non-Jewish sector paint a sorry picture and poor setup for providing solutions to the plight," Lindenstrauss wrote. "The Education Ministry, in cooperation with the local authorities, must formulate a detailed multiyear plan and work opposite the Finance Ministry to fill the classroom shortage."
More gloomy findings awaited the comptroller at 186 Haredi schools surveyed in three jurisdictions: Bnei Brak, Elad and Modi'in Ilit. Of these, 125 schools were situated, wholly or partially, in mobile trailers. A number of these structures were completely unfit to serve as classrooms, 125 institutions had no bomb shelters, and 44 schools had no yard or playground.
Of 66 education facilities in Bnei Brak, 21 were housed in mobile trailers that were 15 years old or older. Most of the school buildings in the city were dilapidated and several were made of flammable materials. The report states that two schools had classrooms in spaces unfit for human habitation: a special-needs class at an elementary school was housed inside the remains of an old bus ¬ without proper ventilation ¬ and four kindergarten classes were held in wooden cargo containers ¬ without proper windows and without emergency exits.
Many of the boarding schools for boys in grades 7-12 did not meet Education Ministry regulations. For example, 10 of the 11 boarding schools examined had no yard, and bedrooms at seven of them housed too many boarders.
The report also points to failings in local authorities' management and operation of school transportation, and in the supervision by relevant government ministries.
"In some cases the issue is serious safety flaws that endanger the pupils' safety and lives," the comptroller warned.
For example, thousands of pupils get driven to school on public buses, to which the law requiring safety belts on school buses does not apply.
Local authorities did not check the age of vehicles used to bus pupils in their jurisdictions. For example, pupils in the Gilboa Regional Council were driven 18 times in buses that were more than 10 years old. In the local council Tzuran-Kadima, nine out of 13 school buses were more than 10 years old. The same was found to be the case in Kafr Kana, Sakhnin and Lakiya.
The law requires that drivers who transport pupils be licensed to do so and confirm medical fitness and no major driving violations. However, the local authorities reviewed had no copies of the drivers' licenses, nor a list of names of the drivers who work for contractors, so they could not ascertain whether these were licensed to transport pupils, and whether they met safety requirements.
"The State Comptroller's Office takes an especially dim view of the flaws that endanger pupils' safety, considering the fact that the office has pointed out some of the flaws in the past. It is incumbent upon the relevant government ministries and the local authorities to conduct a thorough examination into this matter, and to study ways of ensuring a transportation service for pupils that is of high-quality and safe," the report said.
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