School year begins amid renewed strikes

Ministries commended for solving crises that threatened opening day.

yuli tamir 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yuli tamir 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A slew of strikes prevented schools throughout Israel from starting the new school year on time on Sunday, despite progress over the weekend in dealing with the grievances of parents and teachers alike. On Sunday morning, it was discovered that 18,610 students in 42 schools across Israel were being held up due to strikes, as schools in Sderot and in other areas of the Negev protested the absence of proper defenses against Kassam rocket attacks. By late morning, the number of southern schools striking dropped to 11, while complaints of uncleared roads, school crowding, and a lack of classrooms kept schools from opening in five southern Beduin towns. In the Acre neighborhood of Yirka, schooling was also set to be delayed as teachers protested the non-payment of their salaries. Still, most of Israel's 1,755,262 schoolchildren and kindergarteners started the 5767 school year this morning after several start-of-year crises which threatened to delay opening day were supposedly resolved last week. One crisis was averted on Friday when the Education and Internal Security ministries each allotted half of the NIS 30 million needed to fund security in some 700 schools and kindergartens throughout the country left wholly defenseless by budget shortfalls and police manpower reallocations. After the government approved the dismantlement of a patrol unit of 114 squad cars charged with securing Israel's educational institutions last Sunday and a United Jewish Communities donation from 2002 meant to finance security guards at small schools ran dry, the schools in question were left without dedicated police patrols or stationary guards. In response, parents' organizations throughout the country threatened to strike. "We welcome the efforts of Education Minister Yuli Tamir and her director-general [Shmuel Abuav]" that made the agreement possible, said Eti Benyamin, chairwoman of the Forum of Parents' Organization Chairmen. The last hurdle to the parents' agreement came when it was noted by Abuav that it would take approximately a week to put security in place in all the schools in question, since neither ministry had prepared for it ahead of time. While officials in the National Parents Organization threatened in a statement to the media that they would file complaints against school principals who opened their schools without security guards in place, the heads of the local parents' organizations declared the opposite. "There will be reinforcements from the Civil Guard on hand for the first week," noted Benyamin, representing the view of the local organizations. "Therefore, we will open the school year smoothly, and we won't let the festive atmosphere of the beginning of the school year be ruined." A second crisis, over the firing of 550 secondary school teachers and the drastic cutting of teaching hours for some 1,550 others, was averted through compromise reached verbally on Friday between Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Eli Cohen, head of the Finance Ministry's Wage and Labor Accord Unit and Secondary School Teachers Association Chairman Ran Erez. While the agreement's details were not being disclosed ahead of the final signing on Sunday evening, a source in the teachers union told The Jerusalem Post that the agreement will add some 160 retirement pensions for the teachers being fired, to be added to the 220 slots already allotted by the Finance Ministry. In addition, the Education Ministry will restore most of the teaching hours cut, both adding to the hours of those who lost them and restoring the jobs of those teachers who were fired without a guaranteed retirement pension. "We found a solution for everyone who was fired," promised the union source. Erez said the organization had decided to accept the agreement "in order to build trust with the new leadership [of the Education Ministry] and the new head of the Wage and Labor Accord Unit." In total, the agreement is expected to cost nearly NIS 100m. With the crises resolved, Israel's 3,900 educational institutions will open their doors to schoolchildren and an estimated 123,000 educational workers at 8:00 a.m. this morning, kicking off the new academic year. Of particular note are the 361,990 new preschoolers, representing an increase of over 4% from the previous school year. Meanwhile, the number of high school pupils in Israel increased to 357,420, a jump of 2% from last year. The school year will also start on Sunday for some 2,000 hospitalized and home-bound children. The Education Ministry operates 156 classrooms and 33 kindergartens in 28 hospitals around the country. Over 500 special needs teachers will offer the children learning in these environments six class hours each week. The Education Ministry has opened a situation room that will respond to any last-minute crises and will answer questions from parents and teachers. The situation room will operate from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on Sunday in two centers, Jerusalem and Hatzor Haglilit in the Galilee. The hot line for Jerusalem can be reached at 1-212-234567, and for Hatzor Haglilit at 04-693-7711. The ministry's regular national information center can be reached at 1-800-25-00-25. Tamir will be present at the situation room in the North, while Abuav will be present at the Jerusalem center.