After 18 months of negotiations, The Israel Teachers Union and the Finance Ministry hammered out the final details of the "New Horizon" reform plan and wage agreement on Wednesday. The reform has already been implemented in several elementary and middle schools and is expected to encompass them all within the next six years. "This is an historic occasion," union head Yossi Wasserman said. "After 60 years, the Teachers Union has succeeded, together with the state, in putting education at the top of the national agenda and improving the status of the teachers, their salaries and their work conditions. After many, many months of negotiations, we have succeeded in arriving at an agreement which I can clearly say is good for both teachers and students." According to the agreement, the base salary of starting teachers will practically double from NIS 2,800 to NIS 5,300. A starting homeroom teacher's salary will begin at NIS 5,830. Veteran teachers who hold advanced degrees will earn up to NIS 14,000, while principals will earn up to about NIS 19,000. Also according to the plan, the maximum number of students per class will be cut from 40 to 32, and 8,000 new classrooms will be built in the next five years - 40 percent of them in non-Jewish sectors - to accommodate the growing number of students. Overall teaching hours will rise from 30 to 36, with around 25 frontal teaching hours and the rest either working with pupils in small groups or preparing lessons and attending meetings. "New Horizon" has already been implemented for the current school year in 313 schools, and in 2009 it will be expanded to include some 250,000 students - an additional 400 educational institutions. "I am proud and happy that we've bridged all the gaps and reached an agreement that represents a new horizon," Treasury Wage Director Eli Cohen said. "Throughout the entire process, Wasserman was a true partner who put what was best for teachers, students and the education system first." Education Minister Yuli Tamir also praised the agreement. "Eighteen months of intense negotiations resulted in a signed agreement on the reform in the elementary and middle schools," Tamir said. "The signing will allow the education system to go to the next important stage of instilling the reform in schools and preparing as best they can for the next school year." JPost.com staff contributed to this report.