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Teachers will work 36 hours a week and receive a 26 percent wage raise, according to the agreement of principles signed between the government and the Teachers' Association Wednesday.

The agreement, reached after eight months of negotiations, stipulates that a new teacher's monthly wage will be NIS 5,300, and that principals' authority will be widened, including the power to fire teachers .

Over the next few weeks the two sides are expected to hammer out the details of the agreement, which will be applied in 300 schools next school year.

The overall cost of the reform, which will be introduced gradually over six years, is some NIS 3.3 billion. Should the Secondary School Teachers Association join the agreement, the budget will increase to NIS 5 billion.

However, the association has announced that it was continuing the strike, and there would be no studies in seventh to 12th grades Thursday in Jerusalem.

The agreement in principle stipulates that the number of teachers' weekly work hours will be increased by 20 percent, from 30 to 36 hours a week. Elementary school teachers will have to teach 26 hours, compared to 25 today, work five more hours with small groups or individuals and five more hours at checking exams, preparing for lessons, etc.

Junior-high school teachers will teach 23 hours (compared to 19 today), teach groups and individuals for four hours and spend nine hours checking exams and preparing for lessons.

The average teacher's wage is NIS 7,200, which could reach some NIS 9,000-9,500 with the 26 percent hike. A beginning teacher's wage will rise from NIS 2,800 (in fact, new teachers are paid NIS 3,600 due to state guaranteed income) to some NIS 5,300.

One of the main changes in the agreement is increasing the principals' authority to overseeing the school budget and hiring and firing teachers. The dismissal process of a veteran teacher will be shortened and last up to one year instead of two or three. In recent years only some 50 teachers were fired annually for pedagogic reasons.

The principals' wages will be based on a separate wage scale. They will earn some 80 percent more than the teachers, Education Ministry Director General Shmuel Abuav said. He estimated that six years after implementing the reform, some 20,000 teachers would leave the system.

After implementing the changes in some 300 schools at the beginning of the school year on September 1, the ministry will add some 700 schools annually over the next six years.

In the signing ceremony in the Prime Minister's Office, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "For years we've talked about the importance of education and undertook to improve things - but we didn't take the step that would bring about a fundamental change."

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said the agreement reflects "a worldview and education concept that we have aspired to for many years."

Secondary School Teachers' Association chairman Ran Erez slammed the agreement, saying, "Teachers will now become the pupils' babysitters. If until now every teacher worked overtime as he chose, the agreement obliges him to work overtime hours for lower pay than before. The extra pay is not a wage raise but payment for overtime."

Erez said the agreement is bad for the teachers and the pupils.