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The state plans to cut NIS 85 million this year from the school funding it gives local governments. However, the Union of Local Authorities says the cutbacks really amount to NIS 270 million, and is considering preventing the schools from opening come September.

The cutbacks will affect 4,500 janitors, secretaries and administrative staff, as well as harming other education services, such as truancy officers, educational psychologists and aides for special education students.

"The government is falling apart and destroying Israel's education system," ULA Chairman Adi Eldar charged.

The Education Ministry responded that an earlier planned budget cut would have been twice as steep.

The ministry is facing a NIS 400 million shortfall this year, the result of previous budget cuts plus a commitment to funnel NIS 170 million into the New Horizon elementary education reform. The ULA says NIS 24 million of the planned cuts are actually funds that had been earmarked for New Horizon.

The cuts will be differential, based on each locality's socioeconomic status. The best-off municipalities will be hit with the heaviest cuts, of up to 10 percent, meaning NIS 15 million in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and NIS 8.5 million in Haifa.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir informed Eldar of the budget cut earlier this week, and the ULA leadership met to discuss it yesterday morning. It decided to fight the decision.

"The government plans a new reform, boasts about it in the press, but it doesn't have the money to fund it," Eldar complained. "It is not right to expect the public to finance the school system out of city taxes in order to cover up the failures of the education and finance ministers. Municipalities are already financing schools to the tune of NIS 3 billion a year."

Tamir rejected these accusations. "Local government leaders need to understand that if there were no reform, we would have had to make much deeper cuts in stronger municipalities, in order to move funds to communities that are weaker socioeconomically and thereby create a more egalitarian education system," she said. "Tel Aviv and Rahat cannot be required to invest the same sums in education. But if Tel Aviv pays a little more for the improvements, the gap will narrow. Everyone supports social justice and differential investment, until it hits his own pocket."