HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s annual school-violence reports offer little value to the public and policymakers because the state neither independently verifies the reports’ accuracy nor releases them promptly, Auditor General Jack Wagner said Wednesday.
An audit of the Education Department’s safe schools initiatives found that the annual reports about student misdeeds ranging from bullying to murder were released as late as a year after the schools’ June 30 deadline to submit data, Wagner said.
He also said the department relies on local school officials to vouch for the accuracy of their data if any questions arise, rather than performing its own analysis.
The information is vital for the department to determine whether a school should be labeled “persistently dangerous” under federal law, based on the number of serious incidents that result in arrests over a certain period. Students in those schools are entitled to transfer elsewhere.
“These reports are consistently late and, by the time they become public, they have very little value,” Wagner said during a news conference.
The Education Department disagreed with some of Wagner’s findings and said it has made efforts in recent years to improve the accuracy and completeness of the school-violence reports.
The audit primarily covered a five-year period between July 2001 and June 2006, but also included information collected as recently as November.
Wagner singled out the department’s 2005-06 report for criticism in one instance, noting that some school districts reported numerous violent incidents, yet no arrests, and others reported relatively few incidents and a large number of arrests.
The audit also found that the department failed to ensure that nine “persistently dangerous” schools in Philadelphia followed through on plans to improve school safety and disregarded recommendations by its safe schools advocate for improving safety in the city’s schools.
Education Department spokesman Michael Race said the agency agrees with Wagner that safe schools must be a priority, and it has taken several steps in recent years to improve its reporting requirements.
“He thankfully gave us some credit for that, and we look forward to continuing to move forward with efforts to improve school safety,” Race said.