(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Uriel Reichman, Kadima's candidate for education minister, speaking to senior members of the Teachers' Union on Sunday afternoon, pledged his allegiance to their cause. Promising them higher salaries, he asked teachers to cooperate with him.
"Together, we can set off on a new direction," he said.
As he had done repeatedly in different forums in recent weeks, Reichman reiterated his admiration for the education system he had studied in the 1950s and for the values of Zionism and social commitment. In addition, he pledged to fight school violence and the verbal and physical abuse of teachers by their students and to improve working conditions.
"I don't see how every teacher doesn't have a workroom and a computer," he said. "Gradually, I promise these things will happen. A small, simple office - it's not a dream, it's a necessity."
Reichman was received with a mixture of appreciation and incredulousness.
"What are you talking about? We don't even have enough chairs in the teachers' room or air conditioning," one teacher called out.
Union members also spoke with Reichman of their willingness to negotiate a longer school day and adopt other elements of education reform on condition they received a significant salary increase. At the same time, they expressed their doubt as to Reichman's ability to fulfill his goals.
"We've seen numerous statements about education being a national priority," said school principal Hanna Shemesh. "And that happened during the same years in which there were the most budget cuts."
"Unfortunately, we have heard many statements promising us to make a 100 percent effort," said Ilan Bahiri, chairman of the organization of junior high school principals.
Hannah Lahav, a principal, pointed out that, while much of the discussion with teachers has focused on salaries, what was at stake was the ability of teachers to maintain good contact with their students, something that required smaller classes and longer school hours.
"That is the most important thing," she said.
Teacher representatives also expressed reservations about what they defined as Reichman's "capitalist" outlook, and voiced their concerns that it would adversely influence the education system.
"I believe in a free-market society, but I also believe in investing in public education because it is the best investment for the future of such a society," Reichman responded.
One principal from Kiryat Shmona said that after a year in which they had been trampled by the Education Ministry the teachers had lost their faith in the political system.
"I am doubtful you will be able to fulfill all your promises," he told Reichman.
Referring to Reichman's statement that he had agreed to become Kadima's candidate for education minister at the request of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the same principal said: "That was the same Sharon who last year shook [then-education minister Limor] Livnat's and [then-finance minister Binyamin] Netanyahu's hands when they signed the Dovrat Report, which turned out to be full of lies."
"To remedy the situation of the Education Ministry, you need a lot of money," he told Reichman. "You said that the state of our education system equals our state of national security, but you know very well what the country's security budget is."
Another union representative told The Jerusalem Post that he was concerned about the similarity between Reichman's promises and those of Shlomo Dovrat.
"I feel like I've just identified another Shlomo Dovrat," he said. "With all of this talk about numbers, nobody is saying anything about pedagogy, about the souls of schoolchildren. All they talk about is achievement."