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February 26, 2014

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Shanghai Rego’s future unclear as pay row goes on

A DISPUTE between teachers and management over unpaid wages at the Shanghai Rego International School is reaching crisis point.

Several teachers at the school in Minhang District claim they were not paid either their salaries or housing allowances last month, while a number of Chinese teachers said the school had failed to make their social insurance payments for the past eight months.

The long-running conflict has had a huge impact on students, many of whom have left as a result. The 40-plus youngsters who have remained loyal to the school are hoping the dispute is soon resolved.

As a result of the conflict, the latest semester, which was scheduled to get under way on February 10, was delayed until February 17.

Under a verbal agreement reached yesterday, the school’s investor has agreed to pay the teachers 5,000 yuan (US$816) each before today, and a further 3,000 yuan before Friday.

The remainder of the unpaid salaries will be settled in early March, the investor said.

Most of the school’s 15 teachers accepted the deal and said they would continue to teach today. Several others, however, said they would not teach again until the salary issue had been fully resolved.

Shanghai Rego International School opened 10 years ago and was once regarded as one of the leading international schools in the city. Many parents paid their school fees for two or three years in advance.

Financial crisis

The problems faced by the school stem from the turbulence at its management company, New Horizon International Education, which is encountering a major financial crisis, its Chairman Cui Xiaojing said.

But more funds are on the way, he promised.

The school’s head of arts told Shanghai Daily yesterday that the delay to last month’s wage payments was nothing new.

Several teachers have been forced to leave their jobs because of the salary and social insurance problems. They were struggling to make their rent payments and meet daily living expenses, she said.

Another member of staff said  teachers did not receive their December salaries until January 30, the eve of the Spring Festival.

“We stay because we love the school and our jobs. But some of us have had to seek other ways to make a living. The latest salaries were delayed and there are no guarantees for the future,” the person said.

She said the school experienced similar problems in 2012. As a result, the Shanghai Education Commission refused to renew its operating license, and all of the foreign teachers had to stay in Shanghai on tourism visas until the problem was resolved.

A new license was granted six months later, the teacher said.

Charles Anderson, the father of a 12-year-old boy who goes to Rego, said the number of students at the school fell from hundreds to just five during the 2012 crisis.

As head of the parents and teachers’ committee, Anderson said the managing company has continually made promises it couldn’t keep.

In a letter sent to parents early in December, New Horizon agreed to have its finances audited by a third-party and to make regular reports to parents. The audit never happened.

An employee named Wang Yu represented the board but he was unavailable  from the end of January until yesterday, Anderson said.

Based in Tianjin, New Horizon International Education manages three Rego schools in China, in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin.

Its primary investor is the Holland-based REGO Education Europe Foundation.

Cui said he has been using his own money to pay the teachers. The school should have received 80 million yuan of funding at the end of last year, but it never came, he said.

License at risk

The Shanghai Education Commission has ordered the company to provide, by today, a full report on the school’s situation.

Also, its license has expired, but the commission said it will extend the deadline until next month.

“Investment is the key issue,” said Yang Weiren, the director of the commission’s international department.

The authority will study the company’s report carefully and decide whether the school should be allowed to continue operating, Yang said.

“We have been in talks with the school and its management company. Both have expressed a wish to continue to operate, but they have had delays with funding,” the official said.

The commission also said it has been in talks with other international schools to provide places for Rego students who choose to leave.

New Horizon’s chairman Cui told a parents group that anyone who decides to withdraw their child will be entitled to a refund of their fees.

“Both my child and I like the school,” an unnamed parent told Shanghai Daily.

“It has great facilities and a kind teaching staff. But we won’t have much choice if the place has to close.”

As well as unpaid wages, New Horizon said it owes its school bus service provider 1 million yuan for last semester.

The bus company provider has now agreed a deal with parents to transport their children to and from the school for 1,000 yuan per month per child.


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