Ombudsman criticises the plan which gave jobs to staff who were earlier sacked The Ombudsman yesterday criticised education officials over the cost and effectiveness of an arrangement to hire supply teachers. The watchdog said that despite the scheme's staggering cost of $19 million, it was still not in the best interest of students. Under the plan, laid-off teachers are given preference in hiring for supply work, and paid more than the normal supply teaching rate. The Ombudsman urged the government to review the arrangement as the problem of surplus teachers in primary schools would extend to secondary schools in one or two more years. The arrangement creates a category of 'special supply teachers' - paid more than normal ones. It was introduced in March last year, after elementary schools were forced to lay off hundreds of teachers. To help those teachers, schools were told last August to fill vacant positions by hiring only laid-off teachers, for a set period. About 92 per cent of the 542 surplus teachers identified had found a full or part-time teaching job under that arrangement, including 74 who were hired as 'special supply teachers'. A special supply teacher is a new post, paid 65 per cent of a regular teacher's salary - plus an allowance if they work more than 65 per cent of the school days in any given month. Assistant Ombudsman Frederick Tong Kin-sang said the hiring of 74 special supply teachers was estimated to have cost taxpayers $19 million in the 2003-2004 school year. If these 74 teachers had been recruited simply as 'supply teachers' - who are paid $743 a day - the cost would only be $9.3 million. That was $9.7 million less, he said. Ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying said: 'When society is talking about value-adding and slimming down, paying a double price to buy the same service seems to be inappropriate.' Ms Tai said that the arrangement could sacrifice students' interests in the long run, as most schools rehired redundant teachers on the basis of 'last in, first out', instead of on merit. The Education and Manpower Bureau told the Ombudsman that the extra cost of $9.7 million for special supply teachers was 'a small price' to pay for maintaining stability in the teaching profession. A spokesman for the bureau yesterday said it had asked schools to consider teachers' merit when hiring surplus teachers. He said that with the introduction of the early retirement scheme this year, more vacancies would be created, relieving teacher redundancies.