Budget cuts cast doubt on school year's opening

Citing a cut of NIS 280 million to their budget, the Union of Local Authorities in Israel (ULAI) and the Forum of 15 Independent Cities - two union groups who effectively control the education system throughout the country - have announced that the school year will not open unless the Finance and Education Ministries re-evaluate their decision and cancel the budget cuts. "Despite the government's attempts to divide the municipalities, we have a united front here that is going to stand firm," ULAI chairman Adi Eldar said Monday in a press statement. "The government of Israel is destroying the educational system, and this is not just another fight over the budget. This is a move that offers no way to move forward, and we call on the Finance and Education ministers to reconsider these budget cuts and cancel them." According to Eldar, the budget cuts will unfold with NIS 85m. cut by the end of the year, NIS 175m. next year, and the NIS 24m. earmarked for the New Horizon reform plan no longer being available. Additionally, Eldar has said that over 4,000 employees - custodians, secretaries and administrators, would have to be laid off as a result of the cuts. But the Education Ministry, still reeling from last year's school strike that saw classrooms virtually emptied of teachers and students for over two months, was holding out hope for a compromise before students return from their summer break next week. "The Education Minister is doing everything possible to reach a resolution on this issue and begin the school year as scheduled," a spokeswoman from the ministry said on Monday. "The minister and the ministry's manager are currently discussing possible options with the heads of the ULAI and Forum of 15 Independent Cities to come to an agreement." Another spokesman from the ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that his office hoped a meeting at the Prime Minister's office on Wednesday would bear fruit. "We hope that positive developments will come out of Wednesday's meeting," he said. But ULAI and Forum heads remained steadfast on Monday in their demands that the budget cuts be cancelled and education funding for the school year remain unchanged from years prior. "In light of this blow dealt by the Education Ministry to the needs of the education system, I don't see how we will be able to open the upcoming school year or continue with the New Horizon reform plan," said Tel Aviv Mayor and Forum of 15 Independent Cities member Ron Huldai. His counterpart, Haifa Mayor and Forum 15 member Yona Yahav, echoed Huldai's sentiments. "The government is trying to destroy the education system in Israel," Yahav said. "And we want to let them know that we're not interested in taking part or assisting them in it. If the state wants to damage the education of its children, then they should be the ones to take responsibility for it." Still, the Education Ministry insisted that cuts to the budget should not precipitate the drastic step of halting the school year's opening altogether, and called on the ULAI and Forum 15 to stand down. "Although we are trying to come to an agreement with the ULAI and Forum 15 heads," read a statement from the ministry, "The Education Ministry calls on the ULAI to open the school year as scheduled."