Principal stands by levy on parents

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 October, 2005, 12:00am

He says forced debenture is normal, and it may still be followed by a fee increase

The principal of the International Christian School has defended the controversial plan to force parents to pay for part of the construction of a new school and has revealed they could also face a rise in fees at the end of the year.

Some parents at the multi-faith school are outraged at being told to either pay $59,500 towards the $260 million construction cost of the new school, or have their children's enrolment terminated.

There is a reduced rate of $39,500 for a second child at the school and $29,500 for a third.

The forced debenture programme comes despite parents shouldering fee increases every year since 2001 - and with the possibility they will face another round next year.

'We will do our best to keep them down this year,' principal Ben Norton said. 'But I can't say, that is a board decision.'

This year the fees stand at $87,000 for a secondary student, $64,000 for one in primary and $38,000 for kindergarten.

Mr Norton said the parents and their children would reap the benefits from improved theatre and gymnasium facilities at the new school, due to open in 2007.

He added that such schemes were normal in Hong Kong and complied with government rules stipulating that debenture funds must only pay for special facilities.

The school is budgeting to raise $40 million of the $260 million cost of funding the school in Sha Tin.

The principal assured parents the pricing was 'sensitive' to the fact that the school did not just cater to the 'corporate market'.

Almost half of the children at the school have parents who are employed in either the education sector or by churches.

'Our board is sensitive to this and we are not doing this for the bottom line. They have gone to great pains to make sure we don't lose any student because of the programme,' he said.

The school will offer 'hardship relief' for students who cannot pay. Instead of the debenture, poorer families can apply to pay a one-time levy of $5,000 for one child or $10,000 for a family.

Mr Norton said the school would return the debentures if a 'white knight' in the form of an individual or corporate benefactor offered support to the school.

He said the board had made it clear the debentures would only be sold for this project.

A spokesperson for the Education and Manpower Bureau said it was crucial parents were aware they could be forced to pay a debenture when they applied to send their children to a school.

'Parents should carefully consider whether the debentures are reasonable, taking into account the anticipated benefits of such extra facilities to their children.'