Parents and teachers surprised by ESF cuts
Funding reductions could hit $19m next year, according to the acting head of the foundation
Teacher and parent groups have reacted with surprise to the revelation that government funding for the English Schools Foundation is to be cut by 6.44 per cent in the next financial year - with deeper cuts expected to come.
John Bohan, acting chief executive of the ESF, warned that school fees could go up if the foundation failed to reduce salaries.
'If we can't manage our costs downwards there would have to be a fee increase,' he said. 'A lot of parents are suffering the effects of deflation so this is not my favoured option.'
In a letter to Mr Bohan that was leaked to the South China Morning Post, the Education and Manpower Bureau said that for the remainder of this financial year, the ESF's budget would be cut 3 per cent, in addition to a 1.8 per cent cut imposed last April.
For 2004/05, this will be increased to a cumulative 6.44 per cent cut.
Mr Bohan had circulated the letter to senior foundation members, explaining the total reduction for 2003/04 amounted to $13.45 million while that for its 2004/05 school year could reach $19.32 million.
David Reeves, chairman of the Professional Teachers' Staff Association of the ESF, learned of the cut upon his return to Hong Kong from holidays last night.
'This is out of the blue,' he said. 'There was no forewarning. It will have a massive effect on the current situation. Everything will change, as prior to this the [salary] cuts were arbitrary.'
Nury Vittachi, spokesman of Families Against Cuts in Education (Face), said: 'Many parents are struggling to pay fees and don't want to see any increase.'
The new cuts come at a time when the ESF is facing industrial action from staff opposed to a pay cut of 4.42 per cent on their next contracts, increasing in subsequent contracts to up to 10 per cent.
Teachers are due to stop running extra-curricular activities and taking part in other voluntary activities beyond their duties from the start of term today.
The leaked letter, signed by deputy secretary Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching, said the bureau was looking to make cumulative savings for all school sectors of around 10 per cent for the next financial year. 'In terms of implications for specific sectors, [these] would range from a low end of some 6 per cent to a high end of 13 per cent, with the latter range being applicable to most operationally autonomous subvented bodies,' she said.
Next year's cuts for the foundation had been set at 6.44 per cent, the lowest end of the range, because of the 'co-operative attitude of' and 'current difficulties' faced by management.
The foundation receives around $300 million from the government a year, an amount frozen since 1999/2000.
The letter makes no mention of the 'parity of subsidy' principle, which the foundation enjoyed prior to 1999, when it received subsidies per student comparable to those paid to public sector schools. Mr Vittachi said: 'We are annoyed that the parity principle is being eroded and will be outraged if it is completely disregarded.'