Yuli Tamir 88 224.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On told the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday that there would be no additional increase in allocations for teachers.
"The planned secondary school teachers' strike does not need to break out, and they must take advantage of the window of opportunity and the budget that is already on the table for the reforms [that the National Teachers Union agreed to accept], which also includes revolutionary [changes] in the management methods of the educational system," Bar-On said.
Bar-On's comments came just as a meeting between Secondary School Teachers Organization head Ran Erez and Education Ministry deputy director Menahem Cohen ended without results.
Erez plans to meet with Education Minister Yuli Tamir on Tuesday in a final push to reach an agreement on salary and working conditions and prevent the strike, which is called for Wednesday.
Earlier Monday, Tamir said the SSTO had decided to hold a strike some time ago, irrespective of negotiations with the Education Ministry.
Her comments came a day after the SSTO announced that most of Israel's junior high and high schools would be shut down beginning Wednesday.
"I don't really understand the logic behind the strike," Tamir told Army Radio. "The Secondary School Teachers Organization simply doesn't want to reach an agreement, despite the fact that the government has allocated more than six billion shekels to improve teachers' wages."
Tamir said that last Friday, Erez proposed a "far-reaching proposal" in which there were "many possibilities to progress in the long and short term."
The education minister said that the proposal was still on the table. "If they want to accept it, they can do so at any time," she said, lamenting that "we are faced with an organization that says 'no to a deal, yes to a strike' and the state of Israel cannot operate in this way."
Tamir added: "If there is a will to negotiate, my door is always open."
The mid-week timing of the planned strike is meant to allow Tamir to return from a trip abroad Tuesday, ahead of the strike.
The Jewish state schools will be shut starting Wednesday, with the Arab schools expected to follow a week later, on October 17.
"This will be a months-long strike, and we can withstand it," vowed Erez on Sunday.
"Hopefully," he added, "the government will understand that cheap education takes a heavy toll on our children."
Erez has repeatedly called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to arbitrate between the SSTO and the Finance Ministry, which the union accuses of refusing to negotiate a collective wage agreement for the past two years. The last wage agreement expired in 2001.
Olmert has firmly refused to enter the fray. Following a Friday meeting with the education minister, Erez indicated that there was little reason to continue meeting with Tamir, since only the Finance Ministry was empowered to make deals regarding the teachers' demands.
To prepare for a possible months-long strike, the SSTO is preparing rebate-free loans, alternate employment ("some of which will earn more than the teaching jobs they are leaving," Erez quipped) and a special fund for single-parent families, families in which both parents are striking teachers, and those hit hardest by the possible loss of salaries if the strike gets longer.
The union has come under criticism for failing to reach a wage agreement despite the fact that the much-larger National Teachers Union reached a wage agreement with the Finance Ministry in May that gave a significant salary increase to elementary school teachers.
Opinions are divided about that accord, with estimations running from "historic" and "important" to "scandalous" and even "stupid."
On Sunday, Erez responded to this critique by declaring, "Even if I was drunk, I wouldn't sign this agreement. It's not just bad, it turns teachers into slaves" - referring to the increased power of school principals to fire underperforming teachers and the higher work-hour demands placed on them in exchange for their higher salaries.
"Under no circumstances will we sign this deal," he vowed.