Budget cut leaves periphery schools reeling

Cuts expected to total some NIS 80m., affect 2,000 teachers nationwide.

school strike 2 (photo credit: Channel 2)
school strike 2
(photo credit: Channel 2)
The Education Ministry announced on Tuesday it will enforce a February 2006 High Court of Justice ruling that canceled the "national priority areas" method for funding high schools in the periphery. In all, the cut in next year's budget is estimated at some NIS 80 million, and expected to affect some 2,000 teachers nationwide, some of whom will be fired and some of whom will take a cut in teaching hours. The announcement came in an Education Ministry memo signed by Pedagogic Authority director Leah Rosenberg and circulated to high school principals. Since teachers must be notified by May 31 (Thursday) if they won't be returning for next year, high school principals have just one day to decide which teachers to fire in the scramble to cut costs ahead of the budget drop. With such short notice, one high school principal told The Jerusalem Post, principals were at a loss to deal with the crisis. "I have to tell 21 schools in the periphery, the weakest in the country, about the firing of hundreds of teachers within two days," said ORT Israel director-general Zvi Peleg. "The High Court ruling came 15 months ago," he said, "and they couldn't come up with a new [budget priority] plan so I don't have to fire these teachers?" According to Peleg, ORT's 21 schools will experience a total budget shortfall of NIS 25m. next year, while the AMAL school system will see an NIS 10m. drop in its funding. At ORT, Peleg believes, he will have to cut 5,000 weekly teaching hours, meaning that some 450 teachers will either lose hours or be fired. The consequences could be catastrophic, he says. "If I cut a teacher's job in Yeroham to part time, what teacher would stay in Yeroham? Some schools won't be able to continue functioning." In the Education Ministry memo, the ministry promised to ask the High Court to spread the cut in priority funding across five years to prevent harm to the schools in the affected areas. However, "if the ministry's request is refused," the memo warned, "the budgetary addition given in the past... will be canceled in its entirety, and schools must be prepared for this." "There is no cause for concern or hysteria," Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav told the Post in response to the complaints. Despite the memo's mention of a possible total cut to the budget, "the cut this year will be around 3%, or sic to 10 teaching hours per school," he insisted, saying the memo itself was "mandated by the State Attorney's Office." "There is no budget cut here," Abuav promised. "The Court just told us to distribute the same NIS 80m. in [priority] funds more fairly, and we're going to do exactly that. "But," he added, "the Court didn't specify a time frame [for the redistribution], and we're going to interpret the ruling as allowing us to do this over a few years." The Court ruling, handed down on February 27, 2006, canceled the Education Ministry's "national priority map" on the grounds that it unfairly favored the Jewish education system in the periphery at the expense of the Arab one.