PTU News Reporter
Typhoon Mangkhut battered Hong Kong last month, devastating a substantial number of school premises. The Education Bureau (EDB) accepted the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union’s (HKPTU) appeal to suspend class for two days after Hurricane Signal No. 10 was hoisted. Schools reached out to the HKPTU in pressing need for an extra fund to support the removal of fallen trees and debris, and other repair works. The HKPTU followed the request with a survey, in which more than 80 per cent of the respondent schools asserted the current Emergency Repairs (ER) fails to cover post-typhoon repair costs. The HKPTU demanded a Special Grant on Typhoon Disturbance which reimburses schools full repair costs to ensure recovery works commence as soon as possible. In response, the EDB introduced the Special Grant on Typhoon Disturbance with a basic ceiling. FUNG Wai-wah, president of the HKPTU, welcomes the policy, but hopes the government can reimburse full repair costs caused by typhoons and accelerate the approval procedure. In the long run, the EDB must establish a comprehensive support system for schools.
80 per cent Schools Deem Existing Emergency Repairs Insufficient
The HKPTU distributed a survey to the principals of all secondary schools, primary schools, and kindergartens in Hong Kong, and received 318 valid responses from 19th September to 4th October. 83.6 per cent of the respondents claimed that the existing ER provided by the EDB fails to meet schools’ needs in the aftermath of typhoons. 58.6 per cent (146) of the schools reported they had to carry out repair projects that did not meet the requirements for the subsidy. For instance, 75.6 per cent (236) of the schools needed to deal with fallen trees, but removal or cutting damaged trees does not always qualify for the subsidy. Some principals added that damaged basketball hoops and blinds are not covered either. The subsidy also excludes schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme and kindergartens. The situation proves particularly dire for kindergartens, which are on lower funds, as the sudden repair bills heavily burden their finances. The survey revealed 46.6 per cent (116) of the schools found the application process too lengthy for such urgent works.
Education Bureau to Provide Special Grant on Typhoon Disturbance
97.2 per cent (309) of the respondents agreed a Special Grant on Typhoon Disturbance that reimburses schools full costs incurred in urgent recovery works is necessary. The HKPTU publicly called for a Special Grant on Typhoon Disturbance which reimburses full repair costs on 17th September. The EDB, in prompt response, announced the provision of the Special Grant on Typhoon Disturbance on 27th September with a basic ceiling of $150,000 each for secondary and primary schools, and $50,000 each for kindergartens. Special circumstances where schools require an amount of subsidy exceeding the basic ceiling will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The Grant is expected to be disbursed in January 2019, benefiting all public sector schools, schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme, and kindergartens that participate in the Kindergarten Education Scheme.
FUNG welcomes the EDB’s decision as the Grant supplements the existing ER mechanism in subsidising recovery works. However, since the EDB specified that repair projects that qualify for ER should only be subsidised by ER instead of the Special Grant on Typhoon Disturbance, the HKPTU is concerned the application procedure for ER will be prolonged, especially when the number of applications soars in the wake of typhoons.
Schools Suffer Varying Degree of Damage Costing up to $200,000
School premises suffer a varying degree of damage brought by Typhoon Mangkhut. 7.4 per cent (23) of the respondent schools estimated a repair bill exceeding $200,000. Although ER is estimated to suffice for most schools’ repair expenses, the HKPTU urges the EDB to reimburse schools faced with more critical damage full repair costs to ensure no teaching funds will be shifted to repair works.