J'lem, Tel Aviv High Schools Stay Closed Due to Teacher Strike

High schools in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas will be closed today as strikes by the Secondary School Teachers Association carry on from Thursday. "The education system is like the Titanic that is sinking, but people are still dancing on the deck. We are trying to change this," said Ran Erez, chairman of the Association.

In the Jerusalem area the action will affect high schools in the city itself and those in the Mateh Binyamin Regional council, and Beit El, Bet Shemesh, Kfar Etzion, Mevasseret Tzion, Ma'ale Adumim, Modi'in, Reut, Kiryat Arba and Kiryat Yearim. Tel Aviv area high schools will strike along with those of Beni Brak, Or Yehuda, Bat Yam, Givatayim, Herzliya, Holon, Givat Shmuel, Ramat Gan and Ramat Hasharon.

The Secondary School Teachers Association said in a statement yesterday that in contrast to previous strikes, junior high schools would also take part. However, the Israel Teachers Union said their teachers would be working as usual. According to Erez, about half the independent junior high schools belong to his organization, and in any case "I don't believe the members of the Israel Teachers Union will teach instead of striking. They will not break our strike."

In contrast to the lack of communication between the association and the Finance Ministry, the Israel Teachers Union and the Finance Ministry say progress has been made this week on the union's demands. A senior treasury official said yesterday that he believed an agreement on the principles of the reform in the education system, at least for the elementary grades, could be reached in six weeks.

"Negotiations have started and must be given time. This is a complex and expensive process and it cannot be completed so soon," Education Minister Yuli Tamir said yesterday. "As the Israel Teachers Union agreed to the process, it could be expected that the Secondary School Teachers Association would do likewise, since there is a chance it will lead to goals agreed on by all sides."

The two organizations have been negotiating with the Finance Ministry over the past few months over a new labor agreement that would also involve agreement on the reform of the education system.

The Israel Teachers Union decided last week to continue talks with the treasury on issues such as compensation for the erosion in salaries in recent years and a new pay scale, increased quotas for early retirement, and extra pay for working with learning-disabled children. The Secondary School Teachers Association said it did not trust official promises.

Erez said his organization had been negotiating unsuccessfully for a new labor agreement for the past year and a half. "Senior treasury officials said we were right in our demands, that there really should be investment in education, but each time we were asked to wait."

Sources in the treasury say Erez is "not ready to sign an agreement" and emphasize the progress made in talks with the Israel Teachers Union.