High School Teachers Strike - Day 7 / Ministry to Offer Programs for Students if Teachers Strike Drags on Into Next Week

The Education Ministry and the local authorities will begin offering high school students enrichment programs in place of regular classes as of this Sunday, if the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) has not ended its strike by then.

The Finance Ministry approved some NIS 5 million in funding for the program yesterday. The money will come from the teachers' wages, as the treasury is refusing to pay them while they strike.

No progress was made in yesterday's talks between the SSTO and Finance and Education ministries representatives.

Today, Arab schools will join the strike, which will be entering its seventh day in the Jewish sector.

The enrichment programs will include social and community activities at local community centers; tours run by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Jewish National Fund and youth groups; and the operation of computer centers.

More than 120,000 students are expected to participate in these activities, which will be coordinated by the Education Ministry but carried out by the local authorities.

The ministry stressed that these activities are "no substitute for teachers and schools," but are merely intended to provide a framework for students during the strike.

Ministry sources said that negotiations with the SSTO are at an impasse.

"The gaps are huge," explained one, "and the union's demands would reopen the agreements with the Histadrut [labor federation] and the Teachers Union," which represents elementary school teachers.

The SSTO is demanding a 15-percent raise for all its members.

Yesterday, Education Minister Yuli Tamir met with some 20 teachers who have been holding a protest march across Israel. She presented the agreement recently signed with the Teachers Union, which gave elementary school teachers substantial raises, and urged them to press their union to accept a similar deal.

"We've gone very far to begin correcting an injustice of many years' standing, and we invested NIS 6 billion in raises for [elementary school] teachers," she said.

Eli Cohen, the treasury's wages director, also attended the meeting, and told the teachers: "Your protest is no longer relevant, because everyone agrees that teachers' wages are inappropriate."

However, march organizer Ofer Pereg said that Tamir "did not convince us."

"We admire her greatly, but we need a real change in education, not a cosmetic one."