Legislators urge the foundation to take the issue seriously or risk less aid The high salaries of English Schools Foundation (ESF) teachers came under attack from legislators yesterday, with some making it clear that future financial aid could depend on its ability to cut pay. The Public Accounts Committee met for the second time to consider an Audit Commission report into the ESF's management and government funding. Education minister Arthur Li Kwok-cheung questioned the ESF's sincerity in trying to cut pay, which the Audit Commission said averaged $947,000 in the last school year, $130,000 more than the nearest comparable international school. 'The ESF said 'we have contractual relations and can't do that'. Their heart is not there. They are trying to pacify you,' Professor Li told legislators, referring to the ESF's failure to implement cuts at the same time as the civil service. 'The important thing is the outcome. Have they given you the impression they are doing this for the good of students or for some vested interest?' The foundation's chairwoman, Felice Lieh Mak, insisted the ESF was not dragging its feet. It had to recruit quality teachers from the international market, she said. It had set up a remuneration study group that had just commissioned an independent consultant's report, due by June. 'I used to work in a university. I have had experience of salary cuts. It is not as easy as it seems. It has to be done with an open and fair system,' she said. The ESF's acting chief executive, John Bohan, said progress had been made in cutting pay. Once all staff were on new contracts, the average saving would be about $100,000 per teacher, compared with costs shown in the audit report, he said. But he conceded there was room for improvement. Legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said: 'In the eyes of the public there is a wide difference between the package of the ESF and of other schools. This may affect the question of the subvention.' Another lawmaker, Lau Kong-wah, said: 'From what I have heard, it seems the consultant's report is going to be used as a shield.' He urged the ESF to use other local international schools as reference points for its pay review. At the start of the meeting, Professor Li responded to accusations at the last meeting that the Education and Manpower Bureau should share the responsibility for the ESF's 'wastefulness' as it was represented on its governing foundation and executive committee. Professor Li insisted this was for liaison and advice, not supervision. He said the executive committee had been kept in the dark over golden handshakes to departing staff, which he described as 'the most glaring mismanagement examples in the audit report'. Regarding the employee referred to as 'staff C' - known to be former chief executive Jonathan Harris, who quit his post in June 2003 - he said: 'We became aware of the golden handshake to him from an anonymous letter leaked to the media some months later.' But Mr Bohan said minutes produced only last Friday by former chairman Jal Shroff showed that the executive committee met to approve the departure. Members, including an Education and Manpower Bureau representative, agreed Mr Shroff should determine the terms. The audit report said 'staff C' received 10 months' salary. The Public Accounts Committee meets today to discuss the subvention to the ESF, which, at $278 million, accounts for about 27 per cent of its income.