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The Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTT) will begin an open-ended strike today in high schools and junior high schools in the Jewish school system. Next Wednesday, teachers at Arab schools are set to join the strike the association says could last for months.

Yesterday, the SSTT leadership rejected a compromise by Education Minister Yuli Tamir, and no new meetings have been set. "These days have to be allowed to pass," Tamir said. "There will be a few days of strike and then talks will resume."

But SSTT Chairman Ran Erez said that "we would like the strike to be as short as possible, but in light of the lack of sensitivity of the government and the statements by the Finance Ministry, we are preparing for a strike lasting months."

A list of junior high schools where members of the Israel Teachers Union teach and will not take part in the strike is being released on the Education Ministry Web site (www.education.gov.il) Members of that union, which has already signed a wage agreement with the government, will not replace their striking colleagues.

According to Tamir's proposal, some of the SSTT teachers would receive special pay increases, such as for projects related to Israel's 60th anniversary, extra teaching ahead of matriculation exams and students' entry into the army and other special projects. The rest of the teachers would receive an immediate 11-percent salary hike, which would include the recent 5-percent pay increase to members of the Histadrut Labor Federation.

"We do not accept that only special individuals receive pay hikes, which would in any case last only for one year. Our goal is that all the teachers receive the raises. This is a worse proposal than no raise at all," Erez said. He added that including the 5-percent Histadrut pay increase only continued the pay gap between college graduates in the civil service and teachers.

Erez noted that the 15-percent raise the SSTT is seeking would cost about NIS 900 million, while the Education Ministry proposal is no more than NIS 200 million to 250 million.

However, the ministry says that the raises Erez is seeking will amount to about NIS 1 billion, with the treasury estimating the sum as even higher.

Tamir said the SSTT is asking for a giant pay increase without discussing the outlines of a reform. "This is illogical. I don't know any agreement in the economy that would grant a 15 to 20 percent increase as a down payment alone," she said. Today's strike will not include the few dozen special education classes. The education ministry is looking into holding alternative activities in the Gaza area schools and residential schools. A local government official said the Education Ministry was "encouraging mayors to organize enrichment activities so the kids would not be wandering around the streets."

Tamir is slated to meet Thursday with local government officials to prepare for a long-term strike.

In exchange for the 15-percent hike, the SSTT is willing to add three weekly hours (going from 24 to 27 hours), to work with small groups of students, but not to teach whole classes.

"Even if they don't restore the whole eight hours they cut, at least let them pledge to return some of them," Erez says. But a source close to the negotiations said that despite the inclusion of these issues in the talks, "Erez won't blow up the agreement on the raise, if and when it is signed, over the restoration of the hours."

One issue sources say has been solved is remuneration to teachers for work with children with learning disabilities, with a budget of about NIS 80 million now earmarked for this purpose.

Mijal Grinberg adds: The Qassam-plagued Sha'ar Hanegev High School near Sderot has announced it will open, although the SSTT had refused its request to do so. "The students are safer than at home," Principal Araleh Rotstein said.