ESF votes for reforms to streamline governing body
Will Clem and Katherine Forestier
Draft revisions of ordinance will now go before Legco
English Schools Foundation members met last night for the last time to vote in favour of a historic move to reform the governing body.
After heated debate, 69 members voted in favour of draft amendments to the ESF ordinance which will sweep away the 133-member body, to be replaced by a 26-member board of governors.
Twenty-seven members voted against and five abstained at the two-hour meeting at Quarry Bay School on Braemar Hill.
The revisions provide the framework for wide-reaching reforms of governance and management. They address criticisms from the Director of Audit, the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee and education minister Arthur Li Kwok-cheung that the foundation was ineffective.
They will also set the stage for negotiations over the future of the ESF's public funding, which Professor Li and other Education and Manpower Bureau officials have said could only begin once the reforms were complete.
The draft revisions of the 1967 ordinance will now be tabled as a private member's bill in Legco, possibly before the end of this session. If they are approved, the foundation would be replaced by a 26-member board of governors.
Heather Du Quesnay, the ESF's chief executive, said: 'It is a good majority.' The vote would leave it in a stronger position to negotiate with government over its subvention. 'We have done all the things that were asked by the Director of Audit,' she said.
She expressed relief that the bureau's representative, Bernadette Linn Hon-ho, told the meeting the government had still not made up its mind over the subvention.
Chairwoman Felice Lieh Mak welcomed the vote. 'We have done our best to put our house in order. What happens now is not up to us.'
The new board would include representatives of parents, teachers, principals, other staff and independents, including two legislators. Independents would form the majority, a provision that sparked the meeting's most-heated debate. Several members expressed concern that the ESF would have difficulty recruiting enough high-quality people from outside the ESF.
Legco representative Tommy Cheung Yu-yan asked for the two Legco representatives to be removed from the new board. 'I don't believe there is a need.' Professor Lieh Mak said it was too late to do so. 'They have been included since the first draft,' she said.
Teachers backed the changes after management agreed late last month to increase their board seats from one to two. They also increased their representation on school councils to at least two in an amendment passed at the meeting.
Julian Harniess, chairman of the Association of Professional Teachers of ESF Schools, said before the meeting he had decided to vote in favour of the reform. 'As we have gained what we wanted, I feel morally obliged to support it,' he said.
Sarah Rigby, chairwoman of the Joint Council of Parent Teacher Associations, also voted in support.