SUPPORTERS of sacked Methodist Ladies College principal Rosa Storelli are angry she will not be reinstated despite the board acknowledging she was not responsible for accounting errors that led to her being overpaid.
Hundreds of parents and old collegians wearing black and hot pink armbands will demand the board resign in a ”Monday Mourning” protest march around the perimeter of the school on Monday.
But others flocked to Facebook to defend the board’s decision and argue that reinstating Ms Storelli would be a backward step.
Ms Storelli and the board yesterday resolved their dispute on confidential terms after two days of mediation led by former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles.
MLC’s director of corporate services, Christian Gusner, who was responsible for administering Ms Storelli’s salary package, will now come under scrutiny after the board said Ms Storelli’s overpayment ”arose as a result of accounting errors made by the college over an extended period”.
Mr Gusner would not say whether he would step down or if he felt responsible for the overpayments.
”It was a dispute between the principal and the board and it has now been settled. There is nothing further to add,” he told The Saturday Age.
The protracted airing of the school’s dirty linen has prompted soul searching within the Uniting Church about what it means to be a Uniting Church school.
It has also raised questions about the church’s ability to intervene in the affairs of its Victorian schools, most of which fall under corporations law and have no clear lines of authority leading to the synod.
”There are Uniting Church members (both closely and loosely involved with MLC) asking questions such as ‘where does an elite private school fit within a faith which focuses on justice and equity for all?’ and ‘if we are going to be aligned with such schools, what does it really mean for the church and the school community?’,” the synod of Victoria and Tasmania’s communications director, Penny Mulvey, wrote in the church’s newspaper Crosslight. ”This situation presents an ideal opportunity to revisit these questions.”
An agreed statement issued by the two parties said Ms Storelli would repay $100,000.
Ms Storelli began repaying $100,000 early this year after Mr Gusner alerted her to overpayments relating to her nanny stretching over several years.
But Ms Storelli was sacked last month after the board lost confidence in her when she disputed the findings of a Deloitte review that identified
$716,905 in alleged overpayments related to her salary sacrifice package.
In a statement issued on September 21, the board said it looked ”forward to a speedy restitution by Ms Storelli of the full amount of these overpayments, which exceed $700,000”.
But yesterday’s statement blamed the media for getting it wrong, saying: ”The board and Ms Storelli acknowledged that many media reports in relation to a $700,000 overpayment and other matters were inaccurate.”
It said the board and Ms Storelli had very different views and very different advice about the amount Ms Storelli had allegedly been overpaid.
”The board reiterates that it never accused Ms Storelli of any dishonest or fraudulent conduct,” the statement said.
It said Ms Storelli had a reputation as an educationist of the highest calibre and her employment was not terminated for serious misconduct. Rather, the relationship between Ms Storelli and the board had ”irretrievably” broken down.
The parties had agreed to make no further comment.
Parent Tracey Cocks, a member of the Rosa Storelli Fairness group, said it was outrageous that Ms Storelli had been sacked even though the board had reiterated she had done nothing illegal.
She said the board had reportedly spent more than a million dollars on legal and public relations fees and then agreed that Ms Storelli owed only $100,000, a sum she had already begun to repay. ”The thing that makes me really angry is that some of our community and the general public actually thought that maybe she had done something terrible. A couple of people on Facebook referred to her as a thief.”
Uniting Church moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson hoped to meet with the board to ensure issues about accountability and constitutional matters were explored.
MLC is one of 13 Uniting Church schools in Victoria. Four of these schools – Acacia College, Aitken College, Cornish College and Wesley College – are unincorporated entities within the Uniting Church.
The other nine – MLC, Hamilton and Alexandra College, Ballarat Clarendon College, St Leonards College, Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School, Billanook College, Kingswood College, The Geelong College and Haileybury – are separately incorporated. They are accountable under Australia’s corporations law in addition to any accountability to the church.
”There is a lack of clarity around some of the assumed roles within the relationship with the church and the school,” Ms Thomas Dobson told The Saturday Age.
With KRISTIAN SILVA
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