Saturday, May 30, 2009

Canadian school's campus rumpus

With work on Jurong West Campus stalling, some parents threaten to stop paying building fee

FOR an institution that is in the business of providing answers, the privately-owned Canadian International School (CIS) has left a group of irate parents with a $7.7 million question, now that the school's new campus development has failed to materialise.

Since late 2007, $7.7 million has been raised from about 1,600 parents of students in three of CIS's campuses who have been paying $1,100 per semester for what they believed had been contributions to a Building and Development fund set up for the construction of the school's new Jurong West campus.

The new five-storey campus will consolidate three out of four of CIS's campuses on the island. Construction on the campus - slated to open in February this year - has stopped since last October.
'There has been no explanation for why the work has stopped and they have been less than precise about what will happen,' said Anthony Phillips, who has paid $8,800 in building fees to date for his two children over four semesters. 'The site appears to have come to a standstill, but we've been getting an invoice every six months for building and development fees.'

When contacted by BT yesterday, CIS's head of school, Glenn Odland, said that the halt in construction was 'a function of the change in global economic circumstances'.

'We have reassured the parents that construction will resume by the end of this school term, which is June 12.

'By then, we will also explain to our parents in detail the reasons behind the delay and how we've resolved them,' said Mr Odland.

He was unable to provide BT with an estimated date of completion.

There are also conflicting views on what the fund was originally intended for.

'We were told that the money went for maintenance purposes, but that was not what the Building and Development fee was for, and that is unacceptable,' said Martine Guerin, who has contributed $4,400 for her son who is now in Grade 3 at CIS.

Mr Odland maintains, however, that this was never the case. 'We have made it clear from the start that the building fee would go towards maintenance of existing structures as well as new developments; it is mentioned in our admissions policy online,' he said.

In a letter - issued by the previous principal - dated October 2006, the new campus is mentioned as the reason for the Building and Development fee, but not the existing facilities.

The school will continue to include the fee on invoices. 'The building fee is a common part of the fee structure in many international schools, and it will continue as a permanent element in the fee structure,' said Mr Odland.

Fanning the furore, news of a Korean school's impending takeover of CIS's Bukit Tinggi campus in August 2010 has surfaced, leaving parents to wonder whether their children will still have a middle school campus if the Jurong West site is not ready by then. Mr Odland refused to elaborate on current negotiations with the Korean school. 'While it is ongoing, it would be grossly unfair to the process for it to be published to the public,' he said.

Despite a CIS email to parents on Tuesday that reassured them about ongoing negotiations with the Korean school and the resumption of work on the site before June 12, some of the parents remain unplacated.

'With the new West Jurong campus running almost two years behind schedule, many parents are extremely disappointed at there being almost nothing to show for the multi-million dollar investment in the project,' said Mr Phillips.

Mr Phillips and John Cappetta will be among the many parents who will not be paying future Building and Development fees. 'I was initially happy to pay, because my son, who is in Grade 1, would get to use the new facilities. But there has been absolutely no transparency over what's been happening to these funds,' said Mr Cappetta.

Parents like them might find themselves in a standoff with the school as a result. 'We will treat it as we would a delinquent account; we are pursuing and trying to facilitate payment. No family will be allowed to not pay,' Mr Odland told BT.

Source: Business Times, 30 May 2009

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