Finance 518: Mythbusting at SAS
This week, we are pleased to share with you the myths that parents wrote to us about, as well as myths we have overheard or seen on social media. We have selected those that would be most interesting to current SAS families; please look out for a future Mythbusters series that will address rumors commonly traded by families less familiar with our school.
1. "Many parents I know say there are different costs for different pupils. For example, the cost for military or US diplomatic families is different, and there is no charge for the children of SAS staff. Is this true?"
With one exception, this myth is FALSE. The school board approves each year's tuition fee schedule, which is applied to all students, including military or government dependents and students with siblings at the school. Of course, around half of our students' tuitions are paid by companies or US government agencies rather than by parents. The one exception is the children of some SAS staff. In order to attract top-quality applicants during the hiring process, SAS, like other established international schools, includes tuition costs in its compensation packages for faculty hired overseas. The school limits the number of dependents, and teachers pay income tax on this benefit. Tuition remission not only encourages teachers to join SAS, but, by contributing to overall job satisfaction, helps us maintain our enviable average teacher tenure of six to seven years. This tuition coverage does not include "extras" such as bus service, uniforms, elementary after-school activities classes, and interim semester.
2. "Under the current leadership, it feels as if the number of administrative staff has increased dramatically. I would be interested to know if this is in fact the case."
Numbers from our human resources department indicate that we have gone from 22 administrators (including divisional principals and deputy principals) in 2011-12 to 24 administrators in 2015-16. We would argue that it is FALSE that this represents a dramatic increase. Several positions have changed titles, or have been eliminated simultaneous to a new position being created. While not resulting in a net increase of administrators, these changes may have created the perception that positions have been added. In fact, the increase in administrative positions during our previous superintendent's tenure was more significant because at that time the school shifted from a divisional organizational model to a more centralized, coordinated model. By comparison, data on other schools' administrative structures shows that the size of our leadership team is appropriately sized in proportion to student numbers than those of similar schools, and in some cases may be understaffed.
3. "SAS is supported by the US government, so why is the tuition so high?"
This myth is FALSE. SAS is an independent school, and its revenues come primarily from student fees, with smaller amounts from Summer Semester and elementary after-school activity fees, earnings on school investments, and philanthropic donations. The US State Department has endorsed SAS as an acceptable school for the children of US government employees. As such, it receives a small annual grant to support US-focused programs, and has received grants for specific projects, such as when we upgraded our security precautions. Other than these relatively small amounts, SAS receives no funding from the US government.
4. "SAS has the highest tuition of any international school. Why?"
This myth is FALSE. SAS is a premium independent school with highly qualified teachers and state-of-the-art facilities, located in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It is therefore no surprise that our tuition, currently averaging S$35,800 for returning students, is comparable to those of similar schools in other expensive locations. We are by no means the most expensive, however, with international schools in London, Brussels, Paris, New Delhi, Jakarta, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul all charging more. The most expensive include the International School of Beijing, at S$47,000 and the American School in London, at S$53,500. If we compare our fees with those of similar schools in Singapore, SAS is marginally the most expensive, with fees of other top international schools such as TTS, UWC, OFS, and SAIS within two percent of ours. This difference used to be much higher, but in recent years, strict attention to keeping fee rises at or below 3.5 percent per year has narrowed the differences. And some comparisons are misleading: if one adds the SAS registration fee to tuition, and then compares it with returning-student figures for other schools, it will indeed appear that SAS is much more expensive. Please see our article on the 2016-17 Budget for more information and charts regarding this topic.
5. 'People say that the after-school activities program is going to change completely next year."
This myth is FALSE. In 2016-17, athletics and activities in all divisions will continue basically as they are now, with some alignment and improvement expected in our aquatics programs under a newly hired aquatics coordinator. As communicated in Dr. Kimball's February letter, the athletics and activities program has been undergoing a two-year review, with special attention paid to its objectives, offerings, accessibility, models, and staffing. The review team has developed a number of proposals that will be presented to the Board in a few weeks. Those that are accepted will move on to an implementation stage, with some changes expected for the 2017-18 school year. Please look out for more information about the SAS extracurricular programs after the Board meeting in mid-May.
Thank you to those who sent in SAS myths for us to address in this article; we are always happy to set the record straight! We look forward to investigating other rumors, speculations, or dubious SAS "facts" for future Mythbusters articles. And as always we welcome any finance questions or suggestions for future articles, to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.