Teachers Get 10% Hike, 32 per Class

The secondary school teachers strike ended yesterday morning just minutes before back-to-work orders against the teachers were due to go in effect.

The agreement signed between the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA), the Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry, includes an 10-percent wage hike as the first part of the reform of the education system, leading to additional increments and a government pledge to reduce the numbers of students per class and restore classroom hours slashed due to budget cuts. One and a half percent of the hike is part of the public-sector wage accord.

A few hours after the agreement was signed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that the number of students per class would be 32 "throughout the education system in Israel.

"The education system will be awarded huge additional funding and will simultaneously undergo a thorough reform," he said.

The agreement touches on the teachers main demands: a pay increment of 8.5 percent ahead of the implementation of the reform, and upon the reform's implementation another 17.5 percent. In exchange, the teachers will work another two hours with small groups of weaker or stronger students.

"In the middle of the night, when the question of resources to reduce the number of students per class came up again, the prime minister intervened and decided to allocate the necessary funds," Education Minister Yuli Tamir said.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said the agreement would empower the school system and the teachers and also reflected responsible fiscal policy.

The Education Ministry said most students and teachers returned to school yesterday.

Erez listed the achievements of the agreement as the reduction of the number of students per class, the restoration of slashed classroom hours, wage increases and pay for the 55 strike days, as well as "a long line of work conditions that we didn't make public."

Erez added that on some of the issues, the teachers received a government pledge, which was "very important."

Before the agreement was signed, the closer the implementation of the back-to-work orders came, the greater the tension. At a meeting late Monday night, SSTA chairman Ran Erez proposed giving in on the 8.5 percent increase and using the NIS 1.5 billion in funding to reduce numbers of students per class.