An administrative blunder has cost HK$90,000, wasted nearly one tonne of paper and left many red faces at the English Schools Foundation.
The mistake was discovered after ESF personnel sent out 13,700 paper ballots for a board-of-governors election to all parents with children at ESF-subsidised and private schools, as well as those in international kindergartens.
The problem? Parents of kindergarten pupils are not entitled to vote for parent representatives included on the ballot. Some, however, did do so, forcing the ESF to scrap the entire vote and restart the process after a two-week delay.
So, 12,600 new sets of ballot documents - each including a cover letter and a dozen pages of candidate statements - were sent again over the weekend to the correct group of parents, excluding the 1,100 not entitled to vote. They have been asked to destroy the original forms and vote in the election for a second time.
The election will select six new board members from a field of 18 candidates.
One candidate blasted the ballot blunder as 'ridiculous' and said those asked to vote again found the error 'so basic that some parents said they won't bother.'
'The mistake has diluted voters' interest and led to apathy,' the candidate said.
ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay, in an earlier letter apologising to parents, blamed the mistake on an administrative problem.
'I am afraid that, as we have no way of distinguishing one parent's ballot paper from another, this means that we will have to reissue the ballot papers,' she said.
But the candidate said the explanation would not fix the problem.
'People are confused,' the candidate said. 'Not everybody read the second e-mail.'
Moreover, a CEO report dated September 27 and sent to the board made no mention of a ballot mix-up.
'When I saw the letter, I was in complete disbelief that our fees are going towards that,' one parent said.
ESF Concerned Parents Group spokesman Hans Ladegaard said someone had to be held responsible for the mistake because the ESF received government funding.
The problem comes as the government reviews its HK$283 million annual ESF subsidy and ESF officials are pledging strong management.
An ESF spokeswoman said costs of the re-vote would be reflected in operational budgets. She would not say how many staff hours were spent on the project or whether anyone had been sacked because of the incident.
The spokeswoman said full sets of documents had to be re-sent because one candidate had put a new remark on a personal statement.
ESF had not notified the Education Bureau because the ESF Ordinance did not require this, she said.
Roy Tam Hoi-pong of Green Sense criticised the ESF for wasting nearly a tonne of paper. The exercise meant that more than 200,000 pieces of paper would have to be thrown away, he said.