Cost rises making school 'unaffordable' Legislators yesterday threw their weight behind a campaign by English Schools Foundation parents against a proposed fee increase - the third in as many years. 'We have support from all political parties in the Legislative Council,' said education legislator Cheung Man-kwong. 'We believe the ESF has a responsibility to listen to parents' concerns about this issue. 'There have been repeated fee increases for the past three years and they simply can't take it any more.' The 13 lawmakers, in a letter to ESF management, stated: 'We demand that the ESF give serious consideration to parents' opinions and freeze the proposed school fee unless the ESF can provide the parents with justifiable reasons and decide on an acceptable school fee.' They also want the foundation to consult parents before altering fees and establish a transparent mechanism for setting charges. The 5 to 7 per cent increase, announced in March and awaiting Education Bureau approval, brings fee rises at ESF primary schools to almost 23 per cent since 2005, and 13.4 per cent at secondary schools in the same period. Annual fees have climbed to HK$58,100 and HK$89,250 respectively. Foundation managers are to meet parents tomorrow. The legislators said more than 300 parents had signed an open letter calling on Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung to intervene in the dispute. Parent spokesman Albert Yeung said the fee increases were threatening to make the foundation's schools unaffordable. 'The ESF has reserves of over HK$550 million,' said Dr Yeung, a University of Hong Kong associate professor of civil engineering. 'We cannot see the need for this fee increase.' Parents were concerned about lack of consultation over increases. 'This organisation is becoming less and less transparent,' he said. But ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay said yesterday the group had misinterpreted figures in the foundation's annual report. 'The size of our reserves are not the same as cash in the bank,' she said. She defended the increase and said more rises were expected because of three 'massive' school renovations and the rising cost of teachers' pay and benefits. 'It is likely that we are going to have to increase fees again,' she said. She denied the foundation had acted without consultation. 'We have a full consultation mechanism in place,' she said. 'But we do not see the need to take a ballot of parents on how much to charge.' Ms Du Quesnay said she was not aware of widespread parental disquiet over the issue. 'When we announced the fee increase, we only received three or four complaints directly from parents,' she said. An Education Bureau spokeswoman said Mr Suen's office had not received written complaints from ESF parents but confirmed officials were aware of the campaign. 'We have received the ESF's application for a fee increase and are currently still considering it,' she said. 'We would definitely take parents' views into account.'