DEPLORABLE conditions at some of Philadelphia's district schools were alleged yesterday by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who described them as "not something that happens in a First World country."
Evidence of asbestos in Francis Scott Key Elementary School in South Philadelphia; water damage in Samuel S. Fels High School in Crescentville; cockroaches crawling around restrooms in Central High School in Olney. It's all detailed in a report released during a Controller's Office news conference.
The review, a follow-up to a 2008 report issued by the Controller's Office, found that the issues that haunted schools back then persist.
Issues surrounding the loo, however, appear to have increased.
"I don't recall us having quite the problems with the bathrooms back then that we have now," Butkovitz said. Half the schools surveyed have nonworking toilets, he said.
Such issues afflict other countries, Butkovitz said. "But in Philadelphia? In Philadelphia you can't go to the bathroom during a six-hour school day?"
The report found that 95 percent of schools had water damage; 75 percent of schools had fire safety hazards and 70 percent had electrical hazards such as exposed live wires.
"While we understand the school district is financially strained and there are many funding priorities, many of these conditions are low-cost [fixes]," Butkovitz said.
A team from the office's technical unit and from its special-investigations unit visited 20 schools - 10 of which were looked at in the previous report - from November to March. The sample represented the district's facilities of various sizes, said Deputy City Controller John Thomas.
Butkovitz said district officials never responded to the 2008 report nor to an emergency notification sent on June 10 about asbestos found at Key school.
Spokesman Fernando Gallard said the school district already knew about the asbestos, found during a May audit of the school. The asbestos, Gallard stressed, was "not an imminent hazard to the occupants of the building" and was contained.
Conditions are worked on all year long, he said. "It's extremely challenging when we do not have sufficient staff or sufficient funding to fully maintain and repair our school buildings," he said.
Both the district and Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, welcomed the report.
"This shows the needs that we have and how the district is in need of more funding," Gallard said. He said he hoped Butkovitz would send the report to City Council and to Harrisburg legislators.
Jordan said in a statement that the union had asked the Controller's Office to look at the school buildings. The federation, he added, has urged the district to be more proactive regarding building conditions, "but to no avail."
"This report shines a light on the district's failure to prioritize the health and safety of our children," Jordan said. "We urge the district to immediately begin addressing the recommended repairs outlined in the controller's report."