From violence in schools to government corruption, this year's Comptroller Report is the biggest in history

Report finds English instruction in schools 'disappointing.'

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Tuesday presented Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik with the longest and bulkiest annual report in the country's history - two volumes containing a total of more than 1,500 pages. "We found problems that require attention," Lindenstrauss told reporters in Itzik's office, flanked by senior office employees including Director-General Shlomo Gur. The serious problems that he raised in the report included violence in schools, money earmarked for the northern border communities that was diverted to the Gaza periphery, full-time hospital doctors who disappear during work hours to moonlight, failure to enforce environmental laws, and a host of other issues. According to Lindenstrauss, the five divisions of the State Comptroller's Office investigated 59 separate subjects involving most of the government ministries and other public institutions, including the National Insurance Institute, Israel Electric, the IDF and the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Regarding one of the investigations, involving Hameshakem - a company that employs 3,000 elderly workers and workers with disabilities - Lindenstrauss called on Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to investigate instances of corruption. Hameshakem is owned by the government and the Zionist Organization and receives its funding from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and from its own earnings. Lindenstrauss wrote that "the grave findings in this report point to very serious problems in the conduct of Hameshakem, even to the point of suspicions of corruption." Lindenstrauss told reporters that aside from this recommendation, he had submitted the entire report to Mazuz for him to decide whether other matters investigated by his office required criminal investigation. But he also said the unprecedented length of the report did not indicate that there was more corruption this year than in the past. The report dealt primarily with correcting government inefficiencies, he explained. Lindenstrauss also had some good news. He said he sensed that there was "more openness on the part of ministers and directors-general to carry out the investigations. There is a change for the better in the conduct of the investigations." At the same time, State Control Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev said he was concerned by the delegitimization of the state comptroller. "If there are those who challenge his legitimacy by refusing to listen and pay attention, they are also showing disrespect for the Knesset. No one can say that he is immune from the state comptroller's investigation." Orlev might have been referring to a letter sent earlier this week by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in connection with the state comptroller's investigation of how Israeli governments have handled the Jonathan Pollard affair. Olmert sent two of his most senior advisers, Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel and political adviser Shalom Turgeman, to the State Control Committee to respond to questions and told Lindenstrauss he would answer questions in writing. However, he added that he would not attend a session in person. Lindenstrauss said he would confer with Orlev on the matter and then consult with senior officials in his office. Regarding English-language instruction in schools, the report found "disappointing" results in nationwide tests, which showed significant differences among social sectors. Pupils in state schools scored the highest in English, higher than their peers in state-religious schools, while the non-Jewish sector scored significantly lower. State-religious schools noted that they stressed Torah-learning over English lessons and often scheduled the English lessons late in the day when the kids were already tired. The comptroller's office also mentioned the issues surrounding English classes for native speakers, which are considered extracurricular and for which parents have been forced to pay out of pocket. The report also mentioned that non-native speakers had been put in the classes as well. Ministry Dir.-Gen. Shlomit Amihai expressed her distress that the cost of these classes had been demanded from the parents. She agreed that regular hours would have to be found. To that end, she ordered that a survey of native English speakers be conducted to determine their specific needs. Despite extensive efforts, the state comptroller said, the Education Ministry has singularly failed to combat violence and bullying in schools. According to a survey carried out for the State Comptroller's Office two years ago, violence did not appreciably decrease in schools from 1999-2006. Eighty percent of pupils said they were cursed at or insulted at least once a month, while 58.5% were bullied, 26.6% were sexually harassed, 19.4% were targets of violent attacks and 6.5% were threatened with weapons by their classmates. The comptroller examined various programs the ministry had put in place to deal with violence and determined that many of them had not been evaluated properly, while others had not been implemented at all. The report made special note of a lack of clarity in ministry directives to teachers on how to deal with violent situations in schools. While these directives did instruct teachers to intervene and use moderate force to separate two fighting pupils, the report said, there were no clear definitions of what moderate force entailed. As a result, many teachers refused to intervene for fear of being sued by pupils or their parents without receiving the requisite backup from the ministry. Directives regarding how teachers could defend themselves from attack were also unclear, the probe found, and directives from the directors-general of different years were often contradictory. In response, the Education Ministry said it accepted the criticism and would work to correct the deficiencies. "The Education Ministry attributes significance to the report's comments and is already acting on some of its recommendations. The ministry stresses that reducing violence is a main part of the ministry's activities, and to that end has put in place a systemic plan in 800 schools to build a secure environment. The plan will be extended to the rest of the schools in stages over the next few years," the ministry said in a statement. The ministry also said it was in the process of putting out a new directive on violence which would reconcile all the contradictions. The report also examined the branch of the ministry that approves academic degrees from abroad. Despite guidelines requiring a degree to be approved or rejected within one month, the comptroller found that it often took as long as six months.