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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to ensure that the Dovrat Commission's report on education reforms is implemented according to schedule, he said Sunday.

According to Israel radio, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toned down statements made by the commission chairman, Shlomo Dovrat, regarding the new salaries teachers will be offered, saying they were too high.

The report recommends that between 9,000 and 14,000 teachers be laid off as part of the proposed reforms in the education system. The teachers' unions claim that the real number of teachers slated for dismissal is closer to 30,000, or nearly a quarter of their 120,000 members.

"This report will be implemented," Sharon said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio, dismissing predictions that it would gather dust like other reports that have preceded it. "The subject of education is in our souls; there is no subject more important."

Since the committee headed by Shlomo Dovrat began its work on the National Education Plan in September 2003, many of its proposals have been announced in the press and have remained essentially unchanged.

However, the report, in its final form, includes a number of changes that are more specific in terms of figures. For example, in addition to the estimate of the number of teachers that should be dismissed as part of the reforms, the committee is also recommending that the wages of a first-year teacher be raised to NIS 5,500 from the current minimum wage of NIS 3,300 in order to attract better qualified candidates.

According to Israel Radio, Dovrat said that teacher salaries may reach NIS 9,000, and even NIS 14,000 with additional incentives.

In response to this statement, Benjamin Netanyahu described Dovrat's recommendations as too high, Israel Radio said. The finance minister emphasized that the country's future depends on two elements: a stable economy and a good education system.

Ultra-Orthodox almost fully autonomousThe Dovrat report also shows that the committee has given in to most of the demands of the ultra-Orthodox community, granting it near full autonomy in its education system, including control over the personnel choices in religious schools. The committee has also decided not to close any of the religious schools.

Four Dovrat panel members objected to the recommendations pertaining to the religious education system, arguing that it receives favorable treatment compared to the public school system.

The ultra-Orthodox community has been essentially exempt from the committee's recommendations as part of the coalition agreement signed with United Torah Judaism.

In addition to the higher salaries recommended for first-year teachers, the committee is also proposing that greater demands be placed on the teachers compared to their current load. For example, if the average load of a teacher today stands at 25 weekly hours, the aim is to raise that to 40 hours, of which 23-25 hours will be comprised of teaching in the classroom. The limit to pay rises that veteran teachers can receive, according to the committee, will not exceed NIS 8,250.

The terms and procedures for dismissing a teacher will also be simplified and made easier to implement. Other recommendations that do not favor the teachers will be a strict limit on absences, and the handling of their employment by regional educational administrations, once they are set up, instead of the Education Ministry.