(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee provided a forum for bombastic rhetoric and finger-pointing on Tuesday, but little progress to end the high school teachers' strike, as face-to-face negotiations between the two sides ended without results.
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On put in a rare appearance and spent 45 minutes reiterating the Treasury's position. He also attempted, as he has done in all his media appearances, to change the "bad guy" image of the Treasury.
"I and the Finance Ministry and the Education Ministry and the prime minister are also worried about education," he said. "Even the 'evil' Finance Ministry wants a better system.
"By 2013, we will add NIS 8 billion to the basis of the education system. This is over and above compensation for natural growth. The education system has not been part of any of the recent cuts, except for the one for the Holocaust survivors."
Bar-On compared the budgets of the Defense and Education ministries, saying: "I sometimes bore myself going back again and again to the same thing, but you have to look at the national priorities. If you take away the portion of the defense budget provided by US aid, then it is practically the same as the education budget. In terms of Israeli taxpayers' shekels, it is maybe a billion shekels difference."
Bar-On stressed two main points. The first, as usual, was that there would be no raises without reform.
"In 1993-4, Yitzhak Rabin gave the teachers a huge raise, but without reform," he said. "A year later, they were back to the same place."
The second point had to do with the mechanics of the collective agreement the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) is demanding.
"Reducing class size will not be part of any collective agreement. Such a thing doesn't exist; the entire economy will crash if that happens." he said. "We have to fix the system, but we cannot be irresponsible."
SSTO head Ran Erez responded by insisting that reduced class size be part of the collective agreement.
"A collective agreement cannot be changed," he said. "Nice words in the newspaper and nice words in the Knesset is not an agreement."
Erez said his insistence was based on a fear that any government plan would not last much longer than the life span of the government.
Committee chairman Michael Melchior (Labor) offered to solve the impasse by passing legislation to reduce class size. His offer was not taken up by either side.
Education Minister Yuli Tamir lashed out at Erez for "living in the past."
"You are creating an impossible situation," she said. "There is no way to change the past. A tragic thing happened [the education system was neglected], but we have changed direction. We have reached an agreement with the National Teachers Union on all these issues, but you remain stuck in the past.
"You cannot negotiate with an eye just on tomorrow, you have to think about the long term."
Tamir threatened to use any available funds for other educational goals rather than the SSTO's demands.
"Maybe we'll build a pre-kindergarten mandatory education system for NIS 2 billion," she said. "Can you honestly say that that is less worthy than using NIS 5 billion to reduce class size by two pupils?"
Tamir and Melchior said the government was more willing than many previous ones to make far-reaching concessions and reforms, and urged Erez to take advantage of that.
"The next government might not offer what we offer and might go back to something you don't like," Tamir said.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>