With less than a week to go before the start of the 2009/2010 school year, and a number of unresolved problems still facing the country's education system, Secondary School Teachers' Union head Ran Erez believes that solutions could still be found. "I can say with all honesty, even with the issues facing us right now, that we're going into the school year with far fewer problems than we had at the beginning of the summer," Erez told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "Just like we were able to resolve a number of issues over the summer, I'm hopeful that answers will be found to address these problems as well, he said. "However, because they relate to the safety of the pupils, they are extremely urgent in nature." The first issue he mentioned revolves around driver's education classes, which are mandatory for all 11th grade pupils, and according to Erez, have been dealt a heavy blow by an ongoing financial dispute between the Education and Transportation ministries. "No one can agree on who needs to be funding these classes, which has caused the layoffs of some 160 driver education teachers over the summer, and cuts to the salaries of another 600 - some by 50 percent," Erez said. "The result has been the educational neglect of our pupils with regards to driver's safety," he continued. "Every year, 70 high-school-age kids die in car accidents across the country. That's two classrooms full. So not only is this issue an affront to the professional careers of the teachers involved, it's a slap in the face to the safety of the pupils, who are about to get their driver's licenses and head out onto the country's roads." Erez also said that the ongoing shortage of certified security guards for the country's schools could pose a serious problem come next Tuesday. Earlier this month, Education Ministry officials warned the Knesset Education Committee that due to delays in the process of certifying security guards, pupils in some cities, including Jerusalem, could find themselves guarded by unarmed security personnel. "It's unthinkable to me that while every restaurant in this country has an armed security guard at its entrance, we still aren't sure if there will be armed security guards at the entrance to every school, where our children spend hours every day," Erez said. Explaining that the problem was rooted in both the jobs' low wages and the high qualification standards the police had set for applicants to the jobs, Erez said something needed to be done to ease the certification process. "These jobs usually go to students or retired people," Erez said, "not Sayaret Matkal commandos. "The average paycheck for a security guard is NIS 4,000 a month, which is minimum wage. Recently released combat soldiers, who are qualified for a number of other jobs, are not going to be jumping in line for this position." Erez also said that if either the driver's education issue or the lack of security guards were not solved by the time the school year starts September 1, his organization had not ruled out the possibility of striking at the effected schools. "Yes," Erez confirmed. "That is a possibility." With regard to recent threats of a strike by the Petah Tikva Parent-Teacher Association if private religious schools in the city continued to refuse enrollment to Ethiopian pupils, Erez said he supported the PTA. "I'm against any and every form of segregation and discrimination," Erez said. "What are we, South Africa? The next thing we know they'll be saying only Ashkenazi kids can enroll in their schools. Then what? Only blond hair and blue eyes? "We support the parents and the Ethiopian community in Petah Tikva, and if they go on strike, the SSTO will support it." Erez also dismissed the recent alarm over a possible swine flu outbreak in schools as "more panic than anything else." "Just like any flu, we have to be safe and careful, but this is no reason to stay at home all day, and it's certainly no reason to shut down school." Overall, Erez sounded a hopeful tone concerning the start of the school year. "We solved so many issues over the summer," he said. "We were able to add NIS 150 million to the budget for math and English courses in secondary schools and we succeeded in bringing down the number of pupils in the classroom from 40 to 35. "I know we only have a week left before the school year starts," he continued. "But thus is the essence of the Jewish people. We wait until the last minute, with all kinds of problems mounting, and then, when it seems like there's no time left, we're able to get to work and find the proper solutions."