A Veteran Educator Fights Back - in the Virtual World

Web site hosts forum to discuss education reform, raising ministry and union ire

Anat Schneider's living room in Netanya looks like a little command center - two laptops, cables, disks strewed about. From here, the veteran educator is waging her war against the agreement between the education and finance ministries and the Teachers Union.

The independent Web site she set up three weeks ago has had more than 166,000 hits and has become the main forum for criticizing the education reform.

The head of Schneider's union faction has demanded she shut down the Web site immediately, but she insists on maintaining it.

The agreement with the Teachers Union stipulates that the reform apply only to teachers who agree to work 36 hours a week, instead of the present 30, in exchange for higher wages. The consent of 70 percent of the teachers is required for a school to apply the reform. However, due to the difficulty in enlisting teachers' support for the agreement, the Education Ministry reduced the quota to 65 percent.

The Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO), whose strike in Jewish schools entered its seventh day today, blasted the agreement reached by the union. The association says the agreement is detrimental to teaching conditions.

The Education Ministry and Teachers Union concede that even the middle-school teachers are not thrilled by the reform. Education Minister Yuli Tamir says "this is a very demanding step, in which the teachers must decide for themselves on the way they work. Some of them are still undecided."

"The teachers are not rushing to sign because they are influenced by, among other things, the SSTO's arguments that it's a bad agreement. It's a very complicated reform and it takes time to convince the teachers," Teachers Union secretary general Yossi Wasserman said.

In private, Education Ministry officials and Teachers Union members say that Schneider's Web site has a considerable effect on the teachers' objections to the agreement.

Schneider, a math and computer teacher in Netanya's Tchernichovsky Junior High School, set up the Web site with her partner, Tami Hanuni.

She says the union and Education Ministry present only part of the agreement's implications. She says the agreement does not offer a real wage improvement, because the teachers must work more hours for less per hour than they do today. In addition, certain remunerations have been canceled and the agreement doesn't solve the problem of overcrowded classrooms.

"It's not an education reform but a wage agreement, which will worsen the teachers' conditions," she said.

Schneider says the Teachers Union Web site censures criticism of the agreement. According to Schneider, the site's manager said it was the management's prerogative to decide what to publish. She said she feels the objection is politically biased.

The head of Schneider's Otzma Lamorim faction in the Teachers Union, Yafa Ben-David, has demanded she shut down the Web site. Ben-David is negotiating with Wasserman on the faction's joining the union's management. "Apparently one of the conditions is closing the Web site," Schneider said.

The Education Ministry commented that the reform would lead to an average 26 percent improvement in the teachers' wages.

The Teachers Union said their official Web site provides all the information pertaining to the reform, including forums for answering questions.