Education cuts spark outcry, strike threats

"We will use all means possible to prevent these cuts, including a strike," says NTU head Yossi Wasserman.

Netanyahu Saar 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
Netanyahu Saar 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
Proposed cuts to the Education Ministry's budget elicited resounding disapproval from various wings of the education system on Thursday, as the National Teachers Union and Union of Local Authorities threatened to strike if the nearlyNIS 800 million reduction of the ministry's annual budget was approved. "We will use all means possible to prevent these cuts, including a strike," NTU head Yossi Wasserman told reporters on Thursday. "All of our energies will be directed at preventing this thing from happening." Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar also responded to the budget plans on Thursday, calling the Finance Ministry's proposed cuts "unacceptable" and said that if reductions to his ministry's budget were approved, it would constitute a "severe blow" to the education system as a whole. "The proposed decisions that were submitted to the ministers will cause serious harm to the education and higher education systems," Sa'ar said. "Shortages within the education system will continue to be a problem, in addition to the serious cut in higher education and the damage done with regard to high tuition. These proposals are unacceptable and nullify our ability to enact the necessary changes in the system." The Finance Ministry intends to cut more than NIS 1 billion from the education budget over the next two years, which if approved, would result in the reduction of 107,000 teaching hours from the school year and endanger the jobs of some 5,400 teachers. The lack of funding would also force a scale-back in the implementation of the Ofek Hadash, or New Horizon elementary school reform program by nearly 70 percent. New Horizon, which was implemented by former education minister Yuli Tamir over two years ago, has been labeled as one source of the budget cuts. While New Horizon was initially aimed at stimulating teaching hours, the reform's nearly-NIS 1 billion price tag prompted Tamir to sign off on a deal that would transfer payments for the program into future budget cuts, which now finds any progress in those areas under threat. No budget cuts occurred under Tamir, who delayed the implementation of several cutbacks with the approval of former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Education Ministry officials have expressed their dissatisfaction with what they have described as "footing the bill" for Tamir's reform program. But even though Education Ministry officials on Thursday admitted hat New Horizon was a heavy financial responsibility, they said their ministry was firmly opposed to halting the reform altogether. "Some voices in the in the government have said, 'You can either let go of New Horizon or further harm the education system,'" a ministry source said. "And we feel that both of those choices are unacceptable." Also Thursday, Tel Aviv University's student union, along with university staff, announced that they would be holding a "warning strike accompanied by a mass protest" in front of the Gillman Building on Sunday at noon, shutting down classes for an hour in response to the proposed budget cuts. "The Finance Ministry's hallucinatory decrees, along with the policies of the university, have left us with no other choice," TAU Student Union spokesman Noam Bar Levy told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "Now's the time to fight." The proposed cuts to the education budget, Bar-Levy explained, had served as a fuse to ignite longer-held grievances concerning the university's management, which had been brewing in recent months. "The [budget] cuts are absolutely at the bottom of this protest," he said. "But we're also voicing our disapproval of the rise in tuition costs, the decline of the university's academic level, the closing of the dental school and violations of workers' rights." Earlier in the week some 200 students and staff from the university's dental school protested plans to close that institution - which has been under the threat of closure for several years due to budgetary problems. Those students were expected to join the larger protest on Sunday afternoon.