In a report released yesterday, state Auditor General Jack Wagner charged that the state Department of Education is doing a lousy job of enforcing laws that are designed to make schools safe learning environments.
Wagner's rebuke was contained in a special performance audit that ran to 75 pages, 16 of which were a reply from the Education Department.
"We agree with him that school safety is very important and we have made great improvements in that area in recent years," said Michael Race, a spokesman for the Education Department. "Work remains to be done. He gave us credit in some areas but not in others."
Among the many findings, Wagner said the department was failing to enforce Act 26, the law that requires the department to collect school-violence statistics for an annual school-safety report and that mandates the creation of an Office of Safe Schools.
The department fails to verify the stats it receives from schools, does not issue the report in a timely manner and hasn't created the safety office, according to Wagner's report.
He also found that the department failed to work closely with the safe-school advocate assigned to the School District of Philadelphia.
"The Department of Education must correct these deficiencies by first taking ownership of its critical responsibility to oversee school safety throughout Pennsylvania," Wagner said in a statement.
The audit, which covered July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2006, contained 25 recommendations for the department, including:
* Verifying the safety report by developing a reasonable sampling approach, comparing the data reported by schools with data on file with local police and improving its online reporting system;
* Ensuring that persistently dangerous schools implement corrective action plans to reduce violence;
* Reviewing school districts' required emergency-preparedness plan to ensure they are up to date.