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The Union of Local Authorities threatened yesterday not to open schools next year in communities that suffer from an estimated NIS 150 million in budget cuts announced by the Education Ministry on Tuesday.

The Education Ministry refused to comment on the strike threat.

As a result of the loss of funding - which turned out yesterday to be more than the ministry had originally announced - thousands of teaching hours will be cut and some 1,500 teachers will be fired, said ULA chairman Adi Eldar. The ULA ordered some 60 local authorities yesterday to begin the process of teacher dismissal.

"The government prefers to cut NIS 150 million than to add NIS 15 million to improve education in the Arab sector," said Eldar.

The Education Ministry's decision came in the wake of a February 2006 High Court of Justice ruling that bans the ministry from allocating extra funds to parts of the country declared national priority zones, which the court found discriminates against Israeli Arabs.

Eldar criticized the timing of the announcement, which came more than a year after the High Court ruling and gave the schools only two days to fire the teachers.

Shlomo Buhbut, chairman of the forum of frontline communities, also slammed the budget cuts.

"As frontline communities are still licking their wounds after the [Second Lebanon] War, and the south is under a barrage of Qassams, the government attacks all development towns in the sector, meaning the destruction of educational institutions," he said.

However, Education Ministry director general Shmuel Aboav said the government "backs the continued budgetary support" of frontline communities in the North and near the Gaza Strip.

In addition, only some schools will have their compensatory payments cut, while other schools will be added to the list, said Aboav. He added that the ministry is asking the High Court to implement the cuts gradually, such that the cuts would reduce the budgets of the affected schools by only 3 percent next year.