The Beit Shemesh Municipality has close to NIS 70 million provided by the Education Ministry for building classrooms in the city – funds which remain unused.
The information comes to light against a background of high tensions surrounding a secular, state-run school in Beit Shemesh that was forcibly partitioned by the city’s municipal council in order to provide classrooms for a haredi girls school which lacked premises for some 100 pupils.
The city suffers from a severe shortage of classroom space and critics of Mayor Moshe Abutbul and his administration have frequently claimed that large sums of state money remain unused by the municipality.
According to Education Ministry figures obtained by The Jerusalem Post
, between 2009 and 2014 the ministry has provided NIS 97.5m. for the purposes of building classrooms in the city. Of this, just NIS 27.5m. has been utilized, just under 28 percent of the available funds, the ministry said.
Eli Cohen, the mayoral candidate who lost in the recent municipal elections to Abutbul, said the figures represented a failure of management.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been warning about this for more than two years,” Cohen told the Post. “They claim it’s ‘political,’ whereas I thought – and still think – that it is an administrative failure that has harmed the haredi community, and the reason is the war of egos between haredi factions that have paralyzed and continue to paralyze the Beit Shemesh Municipality.”
Yesh Atid MK and Beit Shemesh resident Rabbi Dov Lipman said the figures “further demonstrate that the issue at hand here is not haredi versus secular, it’s not a culture war between citizens, but rather a complete lack of responsible management from the city’s leadership,” adding that he would investigate the failure to utilize the money through the Knesset.
The municipality said in response that building educational infrastructure was at the top of its priorities and noted that it had opened four new buildings for schools in the city.
The municipality said that the ministry had not considered the “difficult topography” of Beit Shemesh, which increases construction costs.
It added that the ministry “does not take into account the fact that public spaces are filled with mobile cara-villas which were erected as a temporary solution for children in haredi education, and we will join in cooperation with the ministry for preparing sites to move these cara-villas to. There is not one open and clean space in Beit Shemesh today for building a school.”