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"The students stopped taking private lessons, because they knew they could ask us for help. And the personal connection we established with them in the small groups has reduced disciplinary problems," says Yolaine Schvartzman, a geography teacher from Ashdod who taught in one of the five high schools in which the Oz Letmura program operated for a few years at the start of the decade.

That educational initiative is the foundation for the reform now being worked out between the Secondary School Teachers Union and the finance and education ministries.

Isaac A. Friedman of the Henrietta Szold Institute, who evaluated the first program, said yesterday that it led to "a reduction in violence and improvement in the social climate at school as well as student achievement."

He also recommended some changes to the initiative, such as providing instruction on how to work with small groups.

Haaretz reported yesterday that the contract being hammered out among the union and the two ministries would provide for a salary hike of about 42 percent in return for an additional 16 hours of work per week, to be used for small-group instruction or other in-school tasks.

Additional payments would bring the total pay increase for teachers to about 50 percent.

According to a number of sources, the treasury is putting the final touches on the outline of the contract and barring any last-minute changes all of the parties are expected to sign it within a few days.

However, union head Ran Erez issued an update to members yesterday which struck a more cautious note.

"Despite the fact that certain understandings and agreements have been reached with the education and finance ministries, it's not over until the contract is signed," Erez wrote.

The new agreement will not increase classroom instructional hours. Between the years 2000 and 2007, a total of about 250,000 classroom hours were removed from the nation's schools, most of them from high schools. Education Ministry officials said yesterday that about half of these hours had been restored over the past two years.

The pilot program for Oz Letmura, which was drafted by the teachers union, was suspended in 2003 by the education minister at the time, Limor Livnat. Former ministry employees said yesterday that that decision had been financially motivated.

"The program enabled me to sit down with students and help them personally," Schvartzman said. "Afterward, in class, they wouldn't want to cause a disturbance. I returned home drained, but at least I was satisfied. The added pay was also important. It feels good to know that your work is appreciated."