Contractor Running National Program for At-risk Teens Fires Teachers, Cuts Hours

Teachers worried about overcrowded classes as well as their pay.

Hila teachers protesting their working conditions in Tel Aviv, March 27, 2012.
David Bachar

The Atid education network, which operates the Hila program that helps teens at risk fulfill their educational requirements, has fired 20 teachers from the program and reduced the work hours of some 60 more.

Moreover, the program in Gedera has apparently closed and the one in Netivot has still not opened even though the school year started more than two weeks ago.

The Hila teachers workers committee protested the cutbacks, as well as the fact that some 400 teachers are still not certain when they are meant to be starting work this year.

According to the workers committee the cutbacks stem from the exploitation of pupil mobility within the program. The teachers note that because the program deals with dropouts, the number of pupils who attend changes throughout the year. The teachers were fired in the summer, based on a drop in the number of pupils, but with the start of the school year the numbers grew.

One math teacher noted that her hours had been cut from 10 to six, leaving her only two hours a week to prepare each of her different groups for the matriculation exam. “We’re talking about teens who have a hard time as it is, who need the hours,” she said. “We’re starting the year with especially large classes, which isn’t good for dropouts. They need personal attention, that’s the purpose of the program.”

The teachers also complained of notices given in July and August which made it difficult for the teachers who were fired or lost hours to find other work.

Some teachers suspect that the cuts are a ploy to reduce their pay, saying that even if the cut hours are restored after the High Holy Days next month, they will not be restored to their global salary; they be restored as “effective” hours, meaning if they get sick they will not be paid, nor will they be paid for the holidays.

Talila Ayalon, a teacher and member of the workers committee, explained that a teacher whose hours are cut from, say, nine hours a week to seven automatically loses his or her status as employee and will be paid only per “effective” hours.

“This has consequences for job security,” she said. “From a teacher with a monthly salary, paid 12 months a year, he becomes a teacher who is paid by the hour and who gets no pay for holidays or summer vacation, and to whom the employer has no obligation — all because of a two-hour cut.” Some 400 of the 1,400 teachers on the program are already paid by the hour.

“This is another example of the failure inherent in contracting out education,” says Amit Ramon, another workers committee member.

The Education Ministry said, “The teachers in the Hila program are employed by the Atid network. More than 1,300 teachers teach in the program all over the country, and some adjustments were made affecting a limited number of teachers, with minimum harm and without harming tenured teachers, to provide the optimal solution for the pupils.”

The Atid network said, “The teacher reductions, to the extent they were implemented, were implemented with the knowledge of the workers committee.” With regard to the unit in Gedera that has closed, it said, “The unit was closed last year at the behest of the local government, both because of the low number of pupils and because of its own considerations. The teachers who worked there were found alternative frameworks.” The fate of the Netivot center remains unclear.