Gideon Sa’ar
Gideon Sa'ar Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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The presidents of all 24 teachers colleges in Israel have demanded an urgent meeting with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, warning of the imminent collapse of the teacher-training system unless immediate measures are taken to shore up the institutions' budgets.

The college heads all signed a letter to Sa'ar, claiming that he has not kept promises to them. Haaretz has obtained a copy of the letter, which contains specific demands as well as alarmist language.

The letter cites a meeting in late 2010 at which Sa'ar ordered the immediate payment of NIS 40 million to the colleges that was was never executed.

The heads warn that, as a result of "arbitrary and faulty decisions by the Education Ministry's accounting office," unless Sa'ar acts quickly "we are liable to find ourselves in the situation of being forced to withhold faculty wages and struggling to start this year's spring semester.

"We fear the damage that could be caused to the teacher-training system and its public image in such circumstances," the letter added.

The college presidents demanded the suspension of a planned 4 percent cut to their budgets as part of an across-the-board budget cut to all government ministries in order to fund free education to all children in Israel from the age of three years.

"It is inconceivable," the letter said, "to cut the very budgets that are used to train teachers. We expect an increase to our budget, in order to meet the demand" for greater numbers of preschool teachers.

Officials at the teacher-training colleges were previously quoted as saying that 2,500 new preschool teachers will be needed - 1,500 of them in time for the September 1 start of the 2012-2013 school year alone - to staff all the new preschools Sa'ar has promised in order to implement the government's promise in full.

According to the colleges' governing council, a total of about 4,000 students are enrolled in kindergarten-teacher programs, in courses running from two to four years. At best, around 1,000 graduates each year are absorbed into the existing system.

Just 10 days ago, the head of the ministry's teacher training division, Noah Greenfeld, sent a letter to the college presidents asking them to arrange for accelerated preschool-teacher training programs starting in September. "Despite the crowded schedule, we are asking all the teaching colleges to join the national effort and meet this training target," Greenfeld wrote.

In their letter to Sa'ar, the college presidents demanded that the Education Ministry withdraw its decision to switch the institutions from annual to monthly budgets. In addition, they want a professional committee created to create an appropriate budgetary master plan for the colleges, as well as a second committee that would be tasked with drawing up principles of administrative and academic autonomy for the institutions.

According to the letter, the colleges are facing joint liabilities exceeding NIS 750 million as a result of the ministry's latest decisions and past actions. The college presidents wrote that due to the ministry's under-budgeting, the teacher colleges are being forced to subsidize programs the state is obligated to fund, including teacher training and in-service training for the "New Horizons" program being introduced in public schools. In addition, they claimed, the colleges have not received allocations for a new-technologies program for teachers; the 21st Century program has been introduced into schools but "the teachers of tomorrow" are not being trained to use it, they said.