High schools throughout the country will remain closed as the new school year opens on Sunday if issues related to the firing of 550 teachers and the "drastic" cuts in the work hours of 1,500 others are not resolved, Secondary School Teachers Association chairman Ran Erez said Wednesday. Negotiations between the union and the Education and Finance ministries have been going on since June. "First of all, we're going to fight over the loss of positions and work hours," association spokeswoman Keren Shaked told The Jerusalem Post. She said this was as much for the welfare of the students as for that of the teachers. "Over the past five years, [budget cutbacks] have essentially erased an entire school day by cutting 8.5 hours of instruction per week," she said. Another association demand was allowing those forced to retire "to do so with dignity," a reference to the absence of pensions for many dismissed teachers. The Finance Ministry funds 220 pensions per year for teachers wishing to retire. Although many of the 550 teachers who were fired by the Education Ministry qualify for the pensions - and according to sources in the union, would accept forced retirement - there simply aren't enough pensions to go around. Referring to the Finance Ministry's calls for reform in the educational system, Shaked said, "They can't demand that we make the educational system more 'youthful' without giving us the pensions on which older teachers can retire." Association representatives were set to meet with Finance Ministry Director-General Yosef Bachar on Thursday to discuss the outstanding issues. According to Erez, "The meeting would be a fateful one," since it would determine whether the sides reached "a breakthrough, or a closed door." The union has agreed to withdraw its strike threat if the Finance and Education ministries restore some of the teaching hours and increase the number of pensions for those being fired. But if the situation remains unchanged, Shaked said, "The school year simply won't open."