Tightening the Wrong Belt? / Hundreds of Schools Don't Meet Safety Standards

A month before the beginning of the school year, hundreds of schools fall short of safety standards, the Union of Local Authorities (ULA) officials said yesterday.

The Education Ministry has recently slashed the budget for renovating schools and fixing safety hazards, and many local authorities cannot afford to finance the work themselves.

The Education Ministry sharply cut the local authorities' budget for school renovations from NIS 720 per classroom in 2005 to NIS 270 last year, ULA deputy director general Ron Chen said. This year, the sum was cut again to NIS 190.

"It must be said openly: The sum the ministry allocates per classroom is not sufficient to renovate the schools or even fix the safety hazards," Chen said.

One of the reasons for the schools' budget cuts is the ministry's alloction of NIS 130 million to an "Improve the Study Environment" project that involves a few hundred schools.

Some NIS 350 million is needed to fix urgent safety hazards and an equal amount is needed for renovating and maintaining schools, Chen said. "In about a month, the school year will begin and hundreds of schools will only be half-fit to teach in.

"Wealthy local authorities will finance the renovations from their own budget. But the poorer ones will not be able to fix faulty fuse boxes, fire hydrants, broken safety railings, broken fences and broken floor and yard tiles."

"The slashed budget has a direct, adverse effect on the pupils' safety," said ULA education chief Avi Kaminsky. "We're not dealing with luxury here, but with hazards that endanger the pupils. The money earmarked by the ministry for improving the study environment does not solve the ministry's basic commitment to ensure children's safety at school."

"The owners of the schools, the local authorities or school networks, etc., are responsible for fixing the safety hazards," said the Education Ministry. "The Education Ministry has no regulations specifically for fixing safety hazards."