Parents' fury over fourth fee increase

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2007, 12:00am

Parents at an evangelical international school have complained that the management is riding roughshod over opposition to a dramatic fee increase, the fourth in five years.

International Christian School informed parents in November it would raise fees for the coming academic year by 7.7 per cent at kindergarten and 9.3 per cent at primary. If approved, the increase would mean annual tuition fees of HK$95,000 for the school's secondary section, up 9.1 per cent from HK$87,000 now.

The school has raised fees every year since 2003, apart from last year, when a debenture was introduced to help pay for a new campus in Shek Mun. Currently housed in a shopping mall in Fo Tan, it is due to move into its new building - partially funded by the government under the private independent schools scheme - early next year.

The school says the increase is needed to pay for the urgent recruitment of 25 members of staff, 15 of whom are teachers, to provide the school with a reserve of two months' working capital and to boost its financial aid packages.

But parents - who needed to decide before Christmas whether or not to re-enrol their children in the school next year - clashed with the school board at two forums on the fee rise earlier this month, complaining about the insufficient warning they were given over the size of the increase, their lack of input into the decision, and questioning its financial justification.

Parent Theodore Chong said issues of governance were more pressing than the size of the increase, 'even though it is a burden'.

'The meetings last week were supposed to be for consultation with parents,' he said. 'But instead the school was simply informing us of their reasons.'

He said the school had failed to explain why so many extra staff needed to hired so suddenly.

ICS principal Ben Norton defended the fee increase, saying the decision had been the result of rigorous process by the school's finance committee, and the recruitment was absolutely imperative.

'We have deferred a number of positions for several years,' he said. 'We have faculty leaving due to overwork, and we realise it is at the stage where it is beginning to affect the quality of our product.'

However, he admitted there was opposition from 'a small minority' of parents. The board will meet next week to finalise the fee increase, taking parents' views into account.

Mr Norton said there had been parental input into the decision as there were parent members on the board and the finance committee, but it was unreasonable for parents to expect the school to do direct consultation before setting fees.

'We don't ask parents, 'How much fees do you want to pay?',' Mr Norton said. 'That would be like asking a client how much they wanted to pay for a product.'