Olmert rebuffs teachers at his office

SSTO reps snub Finance Ministry meeting and head to PMO calling for intervention in education crisis.

Ran Erez 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ran Erez 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rebuffed high school teachers' requests for a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office on Thursday. The representatives from the Secondary School Teachers' Organization (SSTO), led by chairman Ran Erez, gathered at the PMO instead of attending a meeting with the Finance Ministry that was scheduled to take place in Airport City. "Instead of holding another meeting with the Finance Ministry I intend, together with my negotiating team, to go to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem in order to end negotiations today. If the prime minister is really serious, he will meet us today at 12:30. I will wait for him at the entrance to the Prime Minster's Office and we will see what his intentions are," Erez had earlier told Army Radio. Nevertheless, the teachers' efforts proved futile, and the Prime Minister's Office released a statement stressing that Olmert would not intervene and calling on the teachers to sit down with the Finance and Education Ministries. By about 2 p.m. most of the teachers had left the premises. Meanwhile, representatives of the government ministries waited in vain in Airport City and Finance Ministry Director-General Yarom Ariav said that the SSTO had turned the struggle itself into its primary goal. "We have come today to conduct professional negotiations as we agreed yesterday but we didn't find our partners on the other side," added a disgruntled Ariav. Referring to a mass rally in support of the teachers slated for Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Saturday, Ariav went on to say that the teachers were "busy arranging demonstrations instead of trying to resolve the crisis," Army Radio reported. Earlier, in a letter published by Yediot Aharonot, Olmert urged the striking teachers to conclude negotiations with the government ministries and end the shutdown. In the letter, Olmert pledged to answer several of the requests made by teachers in recent weeks. "I am committed to giving a dramatic pay rise of between 26 and 34 percent to SSTO members, I am committed to reducing class sizes, we will increase the number of hours in the education establishment and we will raise the standards of teachers and principals," wrote Olmert. Regarding Saturday's rally, the prime minister said: "If I could, I would come and speak to you in Rabin Square, but I wasn't invited to the demonstration and I don't want to turn your event into a taunting session."