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The National Teachers Union and the government announced Wednesday that they have reached what they called a "historic" agreement on reforming school teachers' salaries that gives them more money in exchange for more working hours.
The agreement refers only to elementary school and middle school teachers, as high school teachers belonging to the Secondary School Teachers Organization will continue to strike on Thursday in protest over the "dragging out" of negotiations over a new wage agreement with them.
The SSTO announced that Jerusalem area junior high and high schools will close at 11 a.m. The strike will hit Modi'in, Ma'aleh Adumim, Abu Ghosh, Mevaseret Zion, Betar Illit, Beit Shemesh, Beit El, Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and the entire Jordan Valley and Gush Etzion regions, including Efrat.
According to the provisions of the new reform plan reached with the National Teachers Union, teachers' work weeks will be lengthened from 30 to 36 hours and salaries raised more than 25%.
The teachers will spend 23 to 26 of the hours in classrooms teaching, with the remainder going toward tutoring, extra duties and administrative capacities. In addition, the new salary scheme will set the gross salary for an incoming teacher with an academic degree at NIS 5,300.
The new wage scheme will be simplified, with eight salary levels, the first five reached automatically after a specified number of working years and fulfilling objective requirements, and the top three reached through the recommendations of superiors.
The agreement also lays out a simple, agreed-upon process for firing teachers at various stages of their employment and gives school principals more power to hire and fire.
While all new teachers will enter the education system using the wage scheme, veteran teachers will be allowed to choose whether to join it or not. There is no agreement as yet on the precise method for moving a teacher from the old wage scheme to the new one.
Teachers' salaries are composed of a base salary and many individual additions for extra activities performed in the school, including coordinating grade activities, managing laboratories, tutoring, accompanying class trips, and the like. The sides disagree over how to reflect current salary additions into the newer, simpler scheme.
Indeed, there is much left to be negotiated, and six months have been set aside in the agreement for the completion of the negotiations, during which the government cannot begin to enact the reform plan and the NTU is forbidden from striking.
Still undecided are the level of pensions and pension payments in the new wage scheme, salaries and working conditions (including hiring and firing practices) for kindergarten teachers, principals, assistant principals, interns, substitute teachers and others and the number of allocations available at the highest wage levels.
The reform plan is expected to cost some NIS 5 billion over six years, a figure reflecting the full implementation of the plan from kindergarten through 12th grade throughout the country. An additional one-time expenditure of NIS 1.1b. will be needed to launch the program.
Meanwhile, the university strike will continue for its 34th day Thursday, after student leaders accused the government of submitting in writing on Wednesday morning a "changed" version of an agreement reached orally on Tuesday night.
The agreement, brokered between student union leaders and Ovad Yehezkel of the Prime Minister's Office, would have allowed students to appeal to an external arbitrator if they disagreed with the Shochat Committee's final recommendations on tuition. The arbitrator was to work with student and government representatives to arrive at a solution to the strike.
In addition, some NIS 45 million was to be transferred to colleges for the purpose of lowering tuition, while some NIS 20m. was to be returned to teachers' colleges, restoring some of the funding cut to the colleges over the past six years.
"They tried to take the students for a ride, changing the written document after announcing to the media that the students had already agreed to the deal," Knesset Education Committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday in support of the students. "This kind of spin is how is how Ovad Yehezkel works."
According to the students, the details of the arbitration agreement and the very mention of a legally-binding agreement was missing from the written text.
Wednesday's failure of negotiations has also increased the possibility that the Knesset will set the level of tuition in legislation.
According to Melchior, if the government does not negotiate properly with the student unions and reach an agreement, the Education Committee would add a clause on tuition to the Student Rights Bill that will be brought to the Knesset plenum next week.
The continuation of the strike leaves open the possibility that the current semester may be canceled. While such a cancellation would cost the state some NIS 2 billion, university presidents have warned that within a week, with nearly 40 days lost, the semester may not be recoverable.
Meanwhile, student groups opposing the student strikes have begun circulating flyers calling on students and citizens to join them for a demonstration at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Ramat Aviv Mall in Tel Aviv.
The effort, dubbed the "Students in White Initiative" (the student union demonstrators wear red t-shirts), was launched because "the deep crisis in higher education cries out for a solution, but the current struggle cannot supply it," and the concern that "any mediocre agreement achieved today will immobilize the system for years to come," according to the group's flyer.