'Education Ministry failed to oversee enrichment provider'

Millions of shekels paid without proper accounting or guidance.

school kids 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
school kids 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The process by which the Sacta-Rashi Foundation was awarded a contract to provide extracurricular activities and the Education Ministry's supervision of the system are both highly problematic, according to the state comptroller's semiannual report released on Monday. The state comptroller criticized the Education Ministry in his report for a whole series of irregularities regarding the non-profit organization that provides enrichment programs in certain schools. According to a law from 1990 revised in 1997, the school day was lengthened to 4 p.m. in certain instances. However, rather than provide instruction through its own teachers during the extra hours, the Education Ministry entered into a partnership with the Sacta-Rashi Foundation to run a program called "Day Dormitories." The program had been running since 1995, but Sacta-Rashi took it over in 2000. Through the program, students receive help with their homework, enrichment activities and a hot meal from around 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. In 2004-5, 60,000 students from kindergarten to 10th grade in around 100 local authorities participated in the program. According to the partnership agreement, the Sacta-Rashi Foundation would provide 50 percent of the funding and the ministry the other half. Generally, a public tender process is needed to hire outside contractors, but there is a clause that says that if the contractor is not-for-profit and is providing all of the supplemental funding itself, then a committee can grant an exemption from the tender and award the contract directly. Sacta-Rashi received such an exemption in 2000. However, according to the comptroller, the foundation should not have been exempt because it was not providing all of the funding itself. Instead, the organization was providing a portion of the funding and worked out a deal with the local authorities and with parents to cover the rest. The foundation had not actually hidden that fact from the Education Ministry and the comptroller slammed the ministry for willfully disregarding the law and obtaining an exemption for the foundation regardless. Moreover, the Education Ministry has continued to work with the foundation, despite calling for a public tender. That process has been stalled for years because the ministry claimed there were no other organizations able to step in and take over, and therefore, it was better to hold off on the tenders to ensure the program kept running. The comptroller dismissed that claim as unfounded. The comptroller also rebuked the ministry for failing to properly oversee the foundation's activities. The comptroller wrote that proper oversight entailed: overseeing the curriculum, determining how much funding parents and local authorities contributed, and deciding which schools would benefit from the program. In all these instances, the ministry allowed the foundation to decide and approved all of its recommendations without a murmur of protest. In one case, the foundation requested an additional NIS 8.9m. for programs it had started in 86 schools and 133 kindergartens, which the Education Ministry shelled out. However, the comptroller wrote that payment was problematic for two reasons. First, the schools Sacta-Rashi had expanded into were not on any list of approved institutions, and, secondly, the foundation had not launched the program in another 60 schools and 101 kindergartens as it was supposed to have done. In essence, the foundation received an unwarranted bonus of several million shekels more than it was supposed to have received. Returning to the original 50-50 arrangement, the comptroller also found that it was frequently altered in practice as well. In the 2000-2001 school year, the ministry covered 60% of the cost. Moreover, the comptroller found that the ministry had no set guidelines for how much each local council should be contributing (putting aside the highly irregular nature of the process to begin with), such that poorer municipalities were often paying a higher percentage than richer ones. For instance, Tel Sheva and Lakia covered 35% of the cost and were in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, while Yeroham, Sderot, Dimona and others, which were better off, only covered 25%, according to the report. The comptroller also cited several other problematic areas with regards to the relationship between the two entities. The payments to the foundation from the ministry were not properly recorded and documented. A senior official in the Education Ministry worked for a sub-company of the foundation while on unpaid leave from his job at the ministry. Finally, since there was no curricular oversight, several other programs taught similar subjects to the "Day Dormitories" and schools had to extend their day to 7 p.m. in order to avoid overlap. There were numerous other irregularities cited in the 26-page chapter of the annual report. In response to a query from The Jerusalem Post, the Education Ministry responded that, "Most of the lapses which the state comptroller noted have been fixed by the ministry, and they refer to previous years. It should be noted that in the last two years, the Sacta-Rashi Foundation has been operating in schools as a result of winning the tender in December 2005. "In that tender, operative goals, a list of communities and facilities which will be included in the program, and the percentage to be contributed [by other sources] were all included and determined by a unified and equal standard. The ministry oversees the program on a regular basis throughout the year by examining the progress reports. At the end of the year, a comprehensive review is undertaken to check the reports and the use of funds [supplied by the ministry]." The ministry also said it was preparing the means to evaluate the program. "Regarding the irregularities raised by the accountant [hired by the ministry] in his report, the ministry closely oversees how the Rashi Foundation deals with these issues. A substantial number of the issues raised were dealt with by the foundation itself," the ministry said in a statement.