Mazuz asked to probe nepotism in school busing

Comptroller's report: Funding for haredi schools in 'disarray'; bus contracts given to relatives; safety not monitored.

By DAN IZENBERG
February 10, 2008 11:38
Mazuz asked to probe nepotism in school busing

lindenstrauss 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss referred some of the findings in his annual report on local authorities to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Sunday because of suspicions that they might involve criminal activity. All his suspicions had to do with local authority contracts for busing children to school. In another section of the report, Lindenstrauss found complete disarray in the allocation of funding for schools in the haredi sector and failure to oversee the construction of schools that were funded. Regarding the Arab sector, he found that there was a shortage of more than 1,000 classrooms, not counting east Jerusalem and the Negev's Beduin Abu Basma Regional Council. With regard to school busing, the State Comptroller's Office found negligence and worse on the part of local authorities regarding the contracting of private companies to bus school children. For example, according to the Education Ministry, transport companies hired by local authorities must provide documents detailing their insurance coverage, the precise routes they offer and the cost of each, etc. However, local authorities often signed contracts despite the fact that the companies did not include this information. Furthermore, the state comptroller said the ministry did not oversee this matter. The state comptroller also found that the bills presented to the local authorities were often incomplete, unclear, did not itemize the trips by route and sometimes did not even provide dates. The authorities often did not examine the safety of the buses or make sure that the drivers had proper licenses. According to the state comptroller's spokesman, Shlomo Raz, the findings Lindenstrauss forwarded to Mazuz include:

  • In the Gilboa Regional Council, the head of the education authority, Ilana Hayat, was responsible for school busing. From 1996 to 2007, the district council contracted a company either owned by or linked to Hayat's husband to transport children. In 2005, the authority signed a contract with a company in which the husband, Emmanuel Hayat, held the controlling share. Hayat transferred his shares to his accountant's sister and did not inform the council of the transaction.
  • The head of the Likiya Local Council, Ahmed Elasad, signed a NIS 665,000 contract with two of his brothers to transport the town's school children.
  • Local authorities did not properly check the bills that the companies presented at the end of the month. For example, in 2005-2006, the Gilboa Regional Council spent NIS 7.8 million on busing even though it had received state funding for a little more than half the sum. In some cases, regional councils paid for buses that the companies had not used on a given day. According to the report, the number of pupils in the haredi sector increased by 141 percent between 1992 and 2006, compared with a growth of 3.6% in the state-secular and state-religious school systems. Haredi students currently constitute 15% of the school population and the figure will continue to rise. Only some of the haredi schools are recognized by the state. Children going to haredi schools that are not recognized are considered to be fulfilling the compulsory education law according to a waiver granted by the state. The state comptroller found that each year the state grants hundreds of millions of shekels for haredi school construction in accordance with coalition agreements between the party forming the government and the haredi parties. The allocation of development funding in the haredi sector is not done according to any systematic program. It is not even clear whether the government is obliged to fund schools in the haredi sector, recognized or unrecognized, and, if so, to what extent. There are no systemic answers to these questions, the report said. "The allocation of funds to education in the haredi sector, including resources for educational infrastructure, must be anchored in a defined and fixed policy," wrote the state comptroller. "If the government decides to do so, it must be done according to permanent and transparent allocation procedures. Allocation decisions based on political agreements can be a complementary dimension to the formal allocation procedure, but must not come in place of it." The report found that there were no comprehensive data on the number of school buildings in the haredi sector such as their suitability to serve as a school, the size of the playground, etc. In B'nei Brak, for example, the city did not have any information on the physical condition of 159 out of 195 school buildings that had been funded by private donors. In the Arab sector, the state comptroller found a shortage of 1,082 classrooms, including 717 in schools and 365 in kindergartens. He pointed out that this does not include east Jerusalem and the Abu Basma Regional Council. To fill the vacuum, local authorities use mobile homes and rented rooms that do not meet the physical standards required by the Education Ministry. The state comptroller also found that in an examination of 187 schools, 20% had more classrooms than the standard called for. In nine of the schools, the number of classrooms exceeded the standard by 51% to 100%. The standard also calls for a plot of land for the school in proportion to the number of classrooms. Out of 49 schools examined, the plots of 16 were much smaller than required. In a few cases they amounted to 13% to 17% of the required size. In six Beduin local authorities in the Negev, 198 classrooms were installed in mobile homes. Some of the schools consisted entirely of such structures. The state comptroller found that many schools in the Arab sector were not maintained properly. In 24 schools the electricity supply was inadequate and power failures were routine. Connections to the electrical system were installed improperly. Seventeen schools suffered from dampness. The state comptroller warned that some of these problems endangered the safety and even the lives of the students. The state comptroller found that many political parties, factions, slates of candidates and candidates for heads of local authorities did not observe the law regarding disclosure of political agreements to the public and to elected officials. He wrote that this caused injury to three fundamental principles: the ability of voters and lists of candidates to decide how they should act; their ability to evaluate and criticize the actions of public figures; and the public's right to know. According to the law, those involved in the elections must report all agreements reached prior to the election to the secretary of the local authority. They must also disclose all coalition and other agreements reached after the election results are in. In the local authorities investigated, the state comptroller found that no agreements were disclosed prior to the election and many of those reached after the election were also not made public. Local authorities often allocated land that they owned to nonprofit organizations without conducting an overall mapping of the authority's needs in terms of public services. The report found that in some cases the political echelon interfered from an early stage in the deliberations of the professional echelon regarding who should be given a plot of land. In many cases, the professional echelon did not establish criteria for determining who should receive the land.

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