Important questions need to be asked about how the ESF spends its money
The English Schools Foundation (ESF) discussion has focused on the increasing fees parents are paying and how they create an unreasonable financial burden. No one has addressed the other side of this equation - costs.
Is the ESF board monitoring costs? Is there a truly independent audit committee hearing reports from an outside auditor which are shared with the full board and parents? Are financial reports prepared at line-item level, rather than aggregated level, so that everyone can see precisely where the money is coming from and going to? That would indicate value per dollar spent.
Are services purchased which are available free from governmental or other entities? And are goods and services being purchased through a bidding process with independent oversight?
As staffing is usually the largest single cost, has the personnel structure been examined? Does the board know to whom each employee reports, their function from a written job description, qualifications as compared to a job specification sheet, and salary and benefits paid for each position? This would allow the board to determine what each employee is doing, whether there is duplication of effort that requires eliminating, and whether people are over- or underqualified for their position. These questions affect staff costs and may suggest where cuts can be made or functions replaced by parent volunteers.
The board should know what the centralised ESF office is doing that could be delegated to school level for a lower cost. Are any expensive senior executives replaceable? What about the cost of the CEO herself? Given that salaries often increase with years of service, could the CEO be replaced by a less expensive, fully functional alternative? And what about the CEO's benefits?
It would have been wise of the ESF, before it talked to the government about increasing its subvention, to get its house in order in terms of operational structure and costs to give it a credible story to tell about why it needs more financial help for parents. And the government should be looking seriously at the ESF management and its operational and financial structures before it changes the subvention. For the government to give our tax dollars to the ESF solely to help ESF parents is not enough: we need to ensure that those tax dollars are being used wisely by good stewards of the public trust.
Jim Wilson, Tai Wai