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The Teachers’ Association Director Continues to Harm Students, Parents and Teachers

Public attention is rightfully riveted to war events, the hostages and their families, and now a missile attack, but in point of fact, the very need to focus our resources on the existential challenge looming over us makes it vital that the social systems, foremost amongst them the education system, function as steadily as possible in these troubled times.

In the past month, high school classes were thrown into disarray, and they may be even more disrupted after the Passover holiday, if they take place at all.  The last thing students in Israel need right now are strikes and sanctions that disrupt their routine and classes, as though they have nothing else to be concerned about. They should be concerned only with what is normal for them under regular conditions: test scores – including the marks that influence their “bagrut” scores, class trips that can break up the monotony of study, educational trips to Poland etc.

How cynical of the Teachers’ Association to disrupt classes at a time like this, and burden not only parents and students with unnecessary stress, but those teachers who are impatient for a signed agreement. After all, the governing principles of the agreement were already signed back in August, and the usual practice is to continue discussing the details in light of the agreements arrived at during negotiations. Now Ran Erez has backtracked on all his agreements from the summer and re-opened all points of contention.

It might have been tolerable if one could argue that the teachers’ association was attempting to win better conditions for teachers, but that it not the case. The Teachers’ Association is not renegotiating the issue of teachers’ salaries; the entire controversy is only about the degree of its control over teachers:

The first issue is personal contracts. The agreement with the Teachers’ Association was that teachers with expertise could be hired at high salaries while giving up on tenure. Many teachers prefer better working conditions over tenure and the protection it offers from being fired. They believe in the quality they bring to the job and want to be compensated for such, rather than be protected from principals who might not find them favorable. For the Teachers’ Association, however, this is a matter of power and control – teachers working under personal contracts will not pay membership fees to the association and will not act as obedient soldiers to the Association’s orders. Are a large number of teachers interested in personal contracts? The Association is uninterested in knowing.

The other two issues Ran Erez has backtracked on are also about power. The Ministry of Finance, interested in rewarding excellence as well as tenure, is willing to grant school principals a flexible budget with which to reward teachers of excellence. Since such an arrangement removes control over payments from Ran Eraz, however, he raises objections. Do teachers who see themselves worthy of such compensation understand that the one doing his best to sabotage such reward is the one representing them in the negotiations? Of course, they haven’t voted for him and can’t replace him, so their opinion doesn’t matter.

The third and final issue is shortening termination procedures. Currently, only a miniscule number of teachers out of tens of thousands are fired every year. Is it that, alone of all professions, in the teaching profession every person who enters the workforce and attains tenure also happens to be an excellent professional who shouldn’t be fired? Of course that isn’t the case, the truth is that termination procedures last around two years, and require energy and resources that school principals simply don’t have. In the past two years, MK Sharren Haskel has been trying to pass a bill that will allow the suspension of teachers who face criminal proceedings, but this bill is thwarted time and again by the associations. Again, this is a struggle for power and control, not concern for improving the teaching body.

In a 2020 survey conducted for us by the Maagar Mochot research institution, we reviewed the teachers’ positions on all three issues and found that the Teachers’ Association fails to represent them. Around 46% of teachers support having the option of personal contracts as opposed to only 42% who are against; 65% of them favored granting school principals the ability to reward bonuses; and on the issue of termination, most teachers were willing to forgo tenure entirely in exchange for better salaries.

The negotiations between the Ministry of Finance and the Teachers’ Association can be summarized by one equation: the Ministry should pay adequate salaries, and the teachers should agree to flexibility in hiring practices and differential compensation. Most teachers would be happy to get such a deal, but they have no way of ensuring that their position is represented in the negotiations because they do not elect their representatives. As long as the freedom of association and the right to representation are not honored in the state of Israel, we will continue to be hostages to cynical associations willing to inflict harm on everyone, even during war, in order to preserve their absolute control of the system.   

Published in Israel Hayom, (“We’re at war, but Ran Erez keeps his hand on the kill switch”, 4/18/2024)

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