These were not the most pleasant three hours for Education Minister Yuli Tamir. The hundred-some teachers and parents meeting with her yesterday at Mesilat Zion, near Beit Shemesh, were full of scathing criticism - and much of it was directed against her.
"You entered the Knesset on a ticket of social and economic change, but you are cooperating with the 'boys at the treasury,'" a teacher said. "A budget's expenditure cap is not divine law."
As the criticism became harsher, the applause grew stronger. Tamir maintained a smile even when angry teachers and parents shouted at her.
"The strike has caused unrealistic expectations," she tried to explain. "Those who believe the strike will end with teachers receiving 30 percent raises and with classroom sizes halved are mistaken. It won't happen. Part of my job is to deflate unrealistic expectations."
This was one of many such meetings Tamir has been conducting with striking teachers. During the first part of the meeting, Tamir presented the government's proposal: A 8.5 percent raise, a commitment to reduce classroom size, and a long-term plan to reinstate cut instruction hours. All this is in addition to the NIS 5 billion reform deal the government signed with the Israel Teachers Union, and a NIS 5 billion allocation to build additional classrooms, she noted.
In a polite and underhanded manner, Tamir placed responsibility for the strike's deadlock with the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA), in particular its chairman Ran Erez. "Pedagogic talks with the SSTA haven't even begun," she said.
After the meeting, however, it seemed most participants remained unconvinced.
"I joined with a sense of mission," said Sari Becher, who has been a teacher for more than 20 years, to Tamir. "A teacher's work takes up much more than 24 hours a week ... and that's something you just don't understand."
Neta, a biblical studies teacher, added that she was not sure whether Tamir had changed her priorities or whether she had decided to "work within the system. You have become a mouthpiece for treasury officials. Jus as funds are allocated to solve the defense budget's problems, we me must find the way to allocate funds for the education system."
"The government reached several social decisions," Tamir told the teachers. "When one becomes a decision-maker, one understands that you have to choose priorities, and not everything is possible. One could wait for a budgetary revolution that would divert billions of shekels to the education system. But the danger is that we'll miss the opportunity to implement change."
In response to the question of whether she fought enough to increase the education budget, Tamir said she would rather receive the necessary funds without "banging on the table" in a fruitless argument. "I know it's not popular, but I received more than any of the ministers who fought the Finance Ministry in vain. Perhaps my image may have suffered, but at least the education system has the tools to start to change."
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