2008/09 school year still under threat

PM cancels education budget cuts for 15 cities, but security guard, safety violation issues remain.

back to school 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
back to school 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday removed one major stumbling block to the 2008/09 school year beginning on time next week, but two more still remain. Olmert canceled a proposed cut to the education budgets for the Forum of 15 independent cities - which include Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, but not Jerusalem. The Forum had been threatening to strike over the issue. But with only four days left and two other major matters unresolved - the issue of security guards for schools and safety violations in a number of institutions across the country - the threat of classes not starting at all remains very real. "If security guards are not standing at the entrances of schools on Monday, teachers will still arrive for work, and they will send their students home," said Keren Shaked, a spokeswoman for the Secondary School Teachers Organization, the union that led last year's strike that paralyzed public schools for 55 days. "We cannot allow there to be a situation in which the entrances to our school are unguarded and anyone can just walk right in." The security guard issue remains a complicated one, with the Education and Public Security ministries trading blame over who is responsible for providing such guards and the underlying funding issue rooted in proposed cuts to the draft 2009 state budget that was approved by the cabinet after a 16-hour session on Monday night. While a last-minute agreement was reached between senior officials from both ministries regarding guards for elementary schools on Wednesday evening, upper level schools, where the SSTO holds sway, remain a problem. A spokeswoman for the Education Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the Public Security Ministry, which oversees the police, has been responsible for the security guards since 1995. She also referred to police Cmdr. Meir Ben-Yishai's statements at the Knesset on Wednesday morning, in which he protested the government's decision to cut the budget for security guards, saying it would severely detract from safety at schools. "The police inspector-general [David Cohen] has held three separate meetings on this issue," Ben-Yishai said, "And he has recommended that school security needs to continue, the same way it does at the entrances to restaurants, banks and event halls." The Public Security Ministry quipped back in a statement: "The responsibility for deployment of security guards at educational institutions is the responsibility of the Education Ministry. To our regret, the Education Ministry did not bother to fight against the budget cuts for security guards, which is their job and does not fall under the responsibility of the police." The Education Ministry spokeswoman responded: "Every year in the past [the Public Security Ministry] has had the budget for [school security guards]. Now that the money isn't there, it's become our problem." The issue threatens to derail the school year from day one, with the SSTO leading the call for classes to be canceled, and others following suit. But if contracts with security guards are somehow worked out within the next four days, the issue of safety violations could still disrupt the start of the school year. At an education convention in Holon on Tuesday evening, a representative of the Israeli Parents Association, Avi Gur, told the Post that most schools had not passed their annual safety code check-ups - which cover anything from the structural security to asbestos levels and first aid equipment. "The way things look right now, it's impossible to say that every school will be able to open as scheduled," Gur said on Tuesday. "The government has waited until the last minute - engineers are still working on schools - and they can't expect this to take care of itself." And while the Prime Minister's Office yielded to the Forum of 15's budget demands, it remains unclear how security guards will be stationed at every public school on Monday, and how many schools will pass safety code checks before the first day of school.