ESF set to charge parents of new pupils up to HK$38,000
One-off, non-refundable fee is introduced following loss of government subsidy, angering parents who say ESF failed to plan ahead
The English Schools Foundation is under fire from parents after revealing plans to impose a non- refundable one-off charge of up to HK$38,000 on new students from next year in its struggle to make ends meet.
ESF chief executive Belinda Greer said the new charge would replace an existing refundable levy that could no longer provide enough funds for replacement or renovation of its schools.
She said it was a means to "secure a long-term future for ESF in Hong Kong", but parents said it was a result of poor financial management.
"They haven't put aside funds. They should have done that 10 years ago when they were wealthy but they didn't," parent Hans Ladegaard said.
The foundation has been looking for ways to secure its finances and meet its costs after the government said it would phase out its HK$283 million annual subsidy from 2016.
"ESF has not in the past 47 years built depreciation into our accounts as the school buildings were gifted to us by the government at no cost," Greer said.
Parent Christian Mueller said failure to reserve money for maintenance was "severe negligence". "I cannot put fuel in my car, drive until it's finished and then say I have no more fuel."
Parents of new pupils now pay a refundable levy of HK$25,000.
Parents of students entering ESF schools from August next year will have to pay the one-off non-refundable charge, ranging from HK$38,000 for Year 1 students to HK$3,800 for Year 13 students. Parents of returning students will not be affected - neither will parents of students entering ESF's two private independent schools.
Foundation chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing, who was to have ended his three-year term last month, will stay on for a year to help draw up a 10-year development plan.
Former elected parents' representative Simon Osborne, who quit the ESF's board of governors over plans to raise capital from parents, said he felt vindicated as he had resigned on the principle that existing parents should be protected.
The new scheme will raise an additional HK$50 million a year for campus maintenance.
It will also help fund the redevelopment of Island School, which the ESF expects to cost about HK$1 billion.
Greer believes the new levy will not reduce ESF's competitiveness among other local international schools.
"If you look at the levy for ESF, it's much lower than any other schools that charge a capital levy," she said.
For example, Nord Anglia International School charges parents a one-off non-refundable levy of HK$80,000 once a child is given a place.
Greer vowed to look at ways to help parents who struggled to pay the levy so that students from less well-off families would not be driven away from ESF schools.
"We will look at introducing some kind of scheme that spreads that cost perhaps over the period of two years," she said.
She said the levy would be reviewed periodically but there were no plans to increase it soon.