With cities and counties nationwide gearing up for their New Year’s Eve countdown parties, a group of educators from the Secondary and Elementary School Principals Association of the Republic of China (SESPA) are calling for the money to be spent on education and school facilities instead.
Government statistics suggest that the expected total cost of all Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties to be held in Taoyuan County, Hualien County and the five special municipalities amount to approximately NT$153 million (US$53 million), including the NT$30 million required for Taipei 101’s fireworks display.
SESPA director-general Hsueh Chun-kuang (薛春光) said local governments should refrain from squandering money on Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations, particularly when most schools are being plagued by budget shortages.
“The five special municipalities are the pilot cities of the nation. Their governments should avoid wasting resources and invest more money in education for future generations,” Hsueh said.
Hsueh said the oil and electricity prices hikes in recent years have accelerated inflation and exacerbated schools’ financial straits, forcing their principals to bow down to others to ask for donations.
The lack of budget have taken a heavier toll on schools in remote areas, Hsueh said, as their inability to offer a higher travel allowance for teachers or students has made recruiting staff even harder.
“The Nantou County Government’s Department of Education gets only about NT$1 billion [US$33.2 million] from its self-financing resources each year, but a fireworks show could cost double its monthly budget,” department director Huang Pao-yuan (黃寶園) said.
Huang said some local governments spent millions of New Taiwan dollars on celebrity performances at the parties, while the money could have been used to repair damaged running tracks at remote schools.
“It is heartwrenching to see well-off areas ‘burning’ money like that,” he said.
National Alliance of Parents Organization director-general Wu Fu-pin (吳福濱) said the gap between the nation’s rich and poor cities is so wide that some schools in the latter category only have NT$30,000 a year for repairs and maintenance.
“Each student should have an equal right to education … Christmas and New Year’s Eve are supposed to be days of joy, and the rich cities should help children from poorer parts of the nation go to school,” Wu said.
In response, K12 Education Administration Deputy Director Huang Tzu-teng (黃子騰) said the central government attaches great importance to education and plans to increase the education budget for next year by NT$9 billion.
Meanwhile, the Taipei City Government’s Department of Information and Tourism director Sun Ting-lung (孫廷龍) said he respected the educators’ opinions, but the city’s countdown party had been so popular that canceling it would be a major disappointment to many.
Given their geological proximity, Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市) have followed a pattern of cooperation in past years, in which the former holds the New Year’s Eve party and the latter takes charge of Christmas celebrations, Sun said.
“We plan to continue this pattern to avoid overlapping spending,” Sun said.
The New Taipei City Government’s Tourism and Travel Department director Chen Kuo-chun (陳國君) said the city’s Christmas celebration this year, which cost about NT$40 million, was a 44-day-long party rather than a one-day event and included four live concerts. The Taoyuan County Government’s Tourism Promotion Bureau director Lee Shao-wei (李紹偉) said its countdown party was popular among youngsters and had become a “specialty” of the county.
The Greater Taichung Government’s Information Bureau said countdown parties brought not only joy, but also ample business opportunities to nearby restaurants and hotels, adding: “Every budget has its purpose.”
The Greater Kaohsiung Government said statistics had indicated that New Year’s Eve parties would bring economic benefits to local businesses, but added that it would gradually reduce its expenditure on such events.
Hualien County councilor Liu Hsiao-mei (劉曉玫) said while countdown parties could give youngsters a chance to have fun and allow tourists to better experience the country, she was against spending money on fireworks and celebrity performances.
The Greater Tainan Government expressed a different view.
The city’s Department of Information and International Relations director Chao Ching-hui (趙卿惠) said although the city’s New Year’s Eve events for the past three years did not feature a fireworks display, they still met the expectations of most city residents and captured the spirit of the special occasion.
Additional Reporting by Shih Chih-ju, Kuo Yan-hui and Chang Ching-ya