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The Education Ministry and the main union representing high-school teachers have agreed that the school year will be divided into two semesters, that the second sitting of the matriculation exam will be eliminated and that about half of these exams will be administered by the schools themselves.

The progress in negotiations was reported yesterday to members of the Secondary School Teachers' Union by union chairman Ran Erez in a letter. In an unconventional move, Erez not only detailed the state of the negotiations but also asked the teachers to express their opinions.

The negotiations began two months ago. The union is discussing educational issues with the Education Ministry and budgetary matters with the Finance Ministry. In his letter, Erez said the treasury's stance is unacceptable to the union.

Despite the "understandings" with the Education Ministry, Erez said the agreement has not been finalized in writing. As reported in Haaretz a month ago, the proposed reforms include teaching five to six subjects per semester (rather than having each class be taught for the entire year) and doubling classroom time for some subjects. Erez said the plan would leave teachers with smaller classes and fewer exams.

The cancellation of the second sitting for matriculation exams would be part of a package that would postpone the administration of these tests in order to maximize classroom time. According to sources, three or four of the seven mandatory matriculation exams will be administered by the schools.

Agreement was also reached on defining students' obligations, expanding the authority of principals and increasing emphasis on technology education.

The understandings with the ministry are reportedly dependent on reaching an agreement on funding with the Finance Ministry. According to Erez, the treasury is demanding a 36-hour work week for teachers (compared to the current 24 hours), consisting of 22 hours of classroom time, 10 on-campus hours for various tasks and four hours of tutoring small groups of students. Erez said the treasury's stance would seriously harm the terms of the teachers' employment, resulting in teacher burnout and an erosion in hourly salaries.

The Finance Ministry said in response: "We regret that Erez is again choosing to mislead his teachers. The terms in his letter are not accurate and are written in a tendentious and erroneous manner," adding that the ministry is prepared to propose substantial salary increases to the teachers.