20,000 Teachers Unpaid in School Licensing Flap

Ministry 'holding us hostage' in battle with school authorities, techers complain.

The Education Ministry has not transferred the funds to pay the salaries of 20,000 teachers in 280 secondary schools for the school year that began on September 1. The schools have apparently not completed the process of being licensed.

"The Education Ministry is using the teachers as hostages to pressure the owners of the schools to arrange the licensing," said a principal of a large high school in the Jerusalem area. "The teachers worked and they deserve to be paid." In some cases a school was not given a license for security and other safety problems.

Aryeh Loker, chairman of the secondary school teachers union, said that "there is no argument that a school needs to be safe, but the Education Ministry cannot be so aggressive with teachers who are not involved in the matter and who are certainly not to blame."

Unlike the situation in the elementary school system, in which the state owns the schools, in high schools, the ownership is in the hands of local authorities or non-government organizations that receive funding to pay teachers.

As part of the licensing process, the schools must provide proof that safety and health regulations are met, as well as correct any problem in those areas. A private firm manages the process for the Education Ministry and informs the ministry whether a school had met the requirements. Only after such confirmation is received does the ministry transfer the funding.

No license, no funding

This year, this management decided that a school failing to complete the licensing process will not receive the funding. A total of 280 secondary schools throughout the country will not be given any funding, and about 500 others will receive only 80 percent of the funding, even though they have filed the necessary documentation but have not yet been licensed. About 20,000 teachers teach in these schools.

Loker, the principal of a large school in Hadera, said yesterday that he received only a small portion of a NIS 1.5 million budget, which is to cover pay for 170 teachers.

"We pay the teachers on the fifth of every month, but now I have no idea where to find the money," he said. "I do not remember such behavior on the part of the Education Ministry toward the schools and the teachers. They are not responsible for my not having received the license as a result of a sidewalk near the school sinking several centimeters into the ground."

Loker said he will have to ask the bank for new credit so to pay salaries "and of course that will also cost interest."

Ran Erez, chairman of the secondary teachers' union, said part of the licensing problem stems from a "bottleneck" in the process, and that private firm in charge of the authorizations is to blame. He says ministry supervisors are also to blame for not handing in permits on time.

"The teacher is not to blame for the workload of the private company or broken pavement in schools," Erez said.

The ministry said in response that a letter sent to all principals by the ministry's director general, Shimshon Shoshani, made it clear no funding would be transferred unless a license was issued.

Meanwhile, today is International Teacher Day, which aims to boost the standing of teachers. While the day will me marked in 100 countries, in Israel UNESCO-sponsored will be celebrated neither by the Education Ministry nor the two teachers' unions.