ESF bid for deal to rebuild 14 schools

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2009, 12:00am

The English Schools Foundation is seeking to strike a new deal with the government to fund a campus building programme that would see all its 14 publicly funded schools rebuilt within 50 years.

The programme is a key plank of its plan for 2009-12, which was released alongside Friday's announcement of a HK$25,000 refundable capital levy on all new pupils from 2011.

Under the plan, the foundation aims to secure funding for rebuilding Kowloon Junior School and putting up two new buildings at King George V School, and to agree on a new site for Island School within three years.

It also spells out ESF goals for the next 10 years, which include adopting a funding strategy for capital projects that would draw on the ESF's operating surplus, borrowings, private donations and government funding.

Chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said: 'We are looking for a new deal with the government as far as school buildings are concerned. There has never been a settled method for sorting out who is going to pay for the major building projects.

'It is a missing piece in our whole approach to financial management and it is something that I have been conscious of since I have been here. But we have had to deal with the more urgent issues first.'

Du Quesnay said the funding discussions would be separate from negotiations over the future of its government subvention, which had been suspended while the ESF's governing board was reformed and had not yet restarted.

The ESF would use its operating surpluses for the past two to three years, and projected future surpluses alongside the HK$300 million due to be generated by the levy within seven years, towards the rebuilding costs.

But it would use 'as little as we can of the commercial borrowing capital that is available to us' to minimise the interest that the foundation would have to pay. The levy would help the ESF to achieve this goal.

The foundation was also launching a fund-raising drive - with a new development director due to be appointed shortly - that was expected to raise a small amount towards building projects in the short term.

John Stewart, the ESF's head of facilities development, said: 'What we are establishing is a 10-year planning window over the next 50 years.'

In the first 10 years, the ESF aims to complete the rebuilding of Kowloon Junior, which is currently split across two sites, and of KGV and Island School, at a total cost of about HK$1.46 billion.

Debbie Hui Lai-bing, of the Concerned ESF Parents Group, which last year took ESF fee rises to the Legislative Council's complaints division panel, said parents should have been consulted over the levy.

'The ESF should be much more transparent about its finances,' she said. 'Before they demand extra money from parents, they should address our concerns to which we have not yet had answers. We asked whether they are using money from the publicly funded schools for development of private independent schools and what progress there has been in negotiating the subvention.'