Local authorities strike kicks off, shuttering schools around country

Small number of municipalities, led by Jerusalem, not participating in action called over dispute over funding of education system

Illustrative (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Illustrative (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Elementary, middle and high schools nationwide remained closed Thursday morning as teachers and other education professionals joined a general strike protesting the government’s plan to slash funding from local authorities in the upcoming state budget.

The strike was called by the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel and was backed by the Secondary School Teachers Association, whose members joined the labor action.

Secondary School Teachers Association chairman Ran Erez said in a statement that later in the day, representatives from the union and the Finance Ministry, Education Ministry, and local authorities federation would hold a meeting about a new labor agreement for teachers.

Most schools were closed, except for special education institutions and schools in Jerusalem, whose municipality chose to not join the strike. Private institutions for preschoolers and kindergarteners remained open, along with privately owned daycare facilities.

In some other locations, a partial strike was called.

In Kiryat Gat and Mazkeret Batya there were no classes in high schools. In Petah Tikva, municipal services are not available to the public, but schools were operating as usual. In Arad, schools were also open, with the exception of high schools.

Some local authorities planned to join the strike but provide reduced operations at junior schools. They included Karmiel, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Ata, Kiryat Bialik, Kiryat Shmona, Betar Illit, Modiin Illit, Kiryat Arba, Ramat Gan, Or Yehuda, Ness Tziona, and Tirat Carmel. The city of Bat Yam planned to conduct classes via remote learning.

Haim Bibas, mayor of Modiin and chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The strikers hope to garner support amid ongoing negotiations with the Finance Ministry over wages, pay for classroom assistants, staff shortages, transportation for students, and special education. As part of the strike, public services within participating local authorities are not being provided Thursday.

Striking professionals also include municipal staff from student welfare departments, maintenance, security, waste removal and informal education like afterschool programs.

However, some of those services are carried out by private contractors in some locations and they will not be on strike, Channel 12 news reported.

The chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities, Haim Bibas, told Channel 13 on the eve of the strike that negotiations over issues started with the previous government. He said the local authorities had granted the new government, sworn in at the end of December, time to acclimatize but would not wait any longer.

“We are in very long processes of discussions, which reach one stage or another, but there is no closure,” he said.

Bibas said there is a shortage of 3,000 teaching assistants and that across the country 7,000 more classrooms are needed.

“There are 100,000 children who are learning in trailers,” he said.

According to Bibas, local authorities want another NIS 300 million ($82,751,610) in budgeting for education services.

Illustrative: A closed school in the northern Israeli city of Safed, March 13, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Education Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that “in light of the local government strike tomorrow, significant disruptions are expected in the educational institutions.”

The National Parents’ Organization urged the parties to negotiate a quick solution.

“We call on the prime minister and the finance minister to sit down with the chairman of the local authorities and immediately come to solutions,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday.

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