School adds HK$190,000 fee for pupils

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 February, 2010, 12:00am

Parents intending to send their children to the International Christian School are up in arms after the school announced they will have to pay a new debenture for each pupil whose value will depreciate to zero after nine years. The announcement resulted in vehement protests by parents who were only told of the fee after registering for places last year.

The depreciating debenture, which starts in the 2010-11 academic year, must be paid by families enrolling their children in the elementary section of the school for the first time. Families whose children are already at the school will not be affected. Parents of kindergarten children will not have to pay the debenture until their child starts elementary school.

Under the scheme, a family must pay HK$190,000 for the first child, HK$130,000 for the second and HK$100,000 for the third. Each debenture's value will depreciate 15 per cent in both the first and second years, and then 10 per cent each year after that, reaching zero in the ninth year. If a family enrols a first child in Form Nine who studies for four years, the refund will be HK$95,000 after depreciation of 50 per cent.

On top of the new debenture, the school is introducing an annual book-use fee of HK$750 to HK$1,200 and an annual building maintenance charge of HK$1,000.

And it is increasing tuition fees for the next academic year, with elementary school rising from HK$76,000 to HK$80,500, middle school from HK$100,500 to HK$106,500, and high school from HK$103,200 to HK$109,300.

Parents of children already attending the school were informed of the two new levies and the tuition fee rise when they re-enrolled their children in mid-December. Given they had to confirm their places in January, they had little time to find another school if they wanted to move.

Most new parents registered their children last year but were only told of the new debenture last month.

The school declined to say whether any parents had pulled their children out because of the fees.

The school has increased fees every year since 2003, except in 2006 when a debenture was introduced to help pay for the new campus in Shek Mun, Sha Tin. The redeemable debenture was HK$59,500 for the first child, HK$39,500 for the second and HK$29,500 for the third. The level of the redeemable debenture rose in 2008 to HK$190,000 for the first child.

A parent of a child in kindergarten at the school, who asked to remain anonymous, said the new fees were a rip-off. 'The books are recycled for use every year. The new book charge is outrageous as it is non-refundable but we still need to give the books back to them at the end of the term,' he said. 'They do maintenance every year, so why suddenly a new maintenance charge this year?

'They originally wanted current kindergarten parents to pay the new depreciating debenture when their children progress to elementary school, but they backed down after vehement protests from existing parents and only asked new parents to pay.'

A school administrator said principal Ben Norton was not in Hong Kong and gave only a written reply to the Post's inquiries: 'Tuition and fees are reviewed on an annual basis and are based on a budget developed by administration in consultation with the finance committee... consultation with potential new parents regarding fees is difficult. ICS understands that greater consultation with parents is needed.'

It is not the first time fee rises have angered parents. The school was attacked in 2007 for giving parents insufficient warning of a rise in tuition fees of more than 9 per cent for the elementary, middle and high school sections. The rise was scaled back to about 7 per cent after the complaints.

The school declined to give a reason for the new fees but some parents said they were levied to pay for a big loan the school took out for the construction of the new campus.

Completed in 2008, the Shek Mun campus boasts an indoor swimming pool and theatre and cost HK$314 million to build, well above the original estimate of HK$260 million. The government granted the land and about HK$100 million for construction, with the school raising about HK$100 million through donations.

'The school told us they needed around HK$200 million for the new campus and would not put an extra financial burden on us,' the kindergarten parent said. 'We objected to the building of all those luxurious facilities like an indoor swimming pool then. Eventually it cost HK$300 million. There's no need for such a luxurious campus for 1,000 students.

'After calculating the two new levies and the new debenture arrangement, it's a nearly 40 per cent tuition fee rise. The school knows they can't apply for such an outrageous hike in tuition, so they roll out new items like the depreciating debenture and the building maintenance fee.'

Another parent, who also requested anonymity, said the school has changed from a humble Christian school to a money-oriented institution. 'As Christian parents we thought the school provided a love-based education to our children in the past. Now it's money-based and I know many parents from all forms have left because they could no longer afford the charges.'

Taking the school's average annual admission of new pupils, 100, the depreciating debenture will raise about HK$50 million after six years.

Set up in 1992 by six Christian groups, the school follows the United States' system and has kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school sections.

Most international schools issue refundable debentures with parents receiving a full refund on the pupil's graduation, but the Australian International School and Kellett School issue depreciating debentures.

An Education Bureau spokeswoman said the bureau had followed up with the school on the revision and collection of fees for the 2010-11 year, and the school was consulting parents over the fee changes.

She said a debenture was an agreement between the school and parents and not a fee or charge requiring approval of the bureau. 'Schools should set the rate at a reasonable level and explain clearly their debenture requirements to parents.'

Adding up

The depreciating debenture will start in the 2010-11 school year

One parent estimates the debenture and other new fees represent an increase in tuition fees of nearly: 40%