6 March 2020

Brindabella Board resignation highlights ongoing grave concerns over school governance

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Brindabella Christian College

Brindabella parents continue to be concerned about a lack of transparency and accountability from the College Board. Photo: File.

A new resignation from the Brindabella Christian College Board has highlighted what parents say is an urgent need for governance reform.

The long-running trouble at the College stems from the conflict between some parents and the increasingly small Board. Brindabella is run by a private not-for-profit company. The Board can appoint up to 11 members under its constitution but is currently closed.

Region Media has seen an Australian Securities and Investment Commission document advising of a change to company details. They indicate that Wendy Chesworth resigned from the Board on 2 March.

Remaining Board members are listed as Alyn Doig, David Whittem and longstanding chair Greg Zwajgenberg. Region Media understands that the Board can function with three members, but parents say serious questions about transparency and competence remain.

Parent Jodie Jayatilaka has spoken out after her family was told recently that the school had terminated her sons’ enrolment two weeks before school started.

The family had formally expressed concerns to the Board last year about high teacher turnover and continuing leadership instability affecting their children’s education. Their daughter Rachael, who was the College captain last year, was censured when she raised the adverse impact the school’s governance issues were creating at the final school assembly.

In January this year, the family received a letter from WMG Legal advising them that their sons, Timothy and James, would not be allowed to return to the school this year. Attempts to communicate directly with the school principal have been unsuccessful and all communications have been from lawyers.

The family was told that the decision to terminate enrolment did not reflect on the boys personally. They add that all school fees have been paid.

Both boys are academic high achievers who were elected to leadership positions in their year groups. Timothy was due to begin Year 12 this year and his mother says that they’ve been told his Year 11 work will not count towards his ATAR due to the forced change of school.

“It has been deflating and it’s harsh and unjust treatment of a student when his parents were seeking to hold the Board accountable for their ability to properly govern the school,” Mrs Jayatilaka said. “The boys are paying the highest price as the College protects itself, not them.”

Mrs Jayatilaka said the Board is ultimately responsible for the governance, vision and strategy of the College.

“This is the worst-case scenario of a child’s best interest being completely abandoned. But this is also a consistent behaviour pattern of self-interest over a number of years from the Brindabella Board.

“They have terminated our contract of enrolment to resolve a dispute and that is just disgraceful.”

Mrs Jayatilaka said that her family had contacted education minister Yvette Berry and Departmental officials charged with ensuring private schools meet operating standards. She’s been told that the termination of their education contract is a private matter, but argues that the Department also has a responsibility to ensure that private schools have accountability for child safety and complaints procedures.

While a complaints policy exists saying that no adverse effect can come to a child following a complaint, Mrs Jayatilaka says that’s inconsistent with policies that enable the school to terminate a contract of enrolment if a family disparages the school.

“So how can you make any complaint that’s adverse or negative towards the school? No parent can trust the integrity of the process if their child’s wellbeing is at stake. It’s a complete farce. They are using the child as a weapon,” she said.

Mrs Jayatilaka says the level of control exerted by Board chair Greg Zwajgenberg has also frustrated efforts to have their complaints heard.

“We had genuine concerns and we wanted to ask the Board how they were stabilising the School, which we love. But we are stuck because we are dealing with the Board chair, not the principal, and there is no policy or procedure for how the Board should behave.”

The Jayatilakas called in the ACT Human Rights Commission over their daughter’s treatment, but say their only other options now are to take the school to court.

“Otherwise, we are powerless. Other parents are terrified that if they speak up, the same thing will happen to their children. In a democratic free country, that’s abhorrent,” Mrs Jayatilaka said.

Brindabella Christian College and Greg Zwajgenberg have been approached for comment.

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Peter Kelley10:55 am 10 Mar 20

The troubles at Brindabella have caused a rise in enrolments for Emmaus Christian School in Dickson. At some point the drain of students from Brindabella is going to cause the school to go under unless the issue is resolved.

Part 1.5 – Small Business Guide
5.3 Duties and liabilities of directors
In managing the business of a company (see 1.7), each of its directors is subject to a wide range of duties under the Corporations Act and other laws. Some of the more important duties are: (inter alia)
• to act in good faith
• to act in the best interests of the company
• to avoid conflicts between the interests of the company and the director’s interests
• to act honestly
• to exercise care and diligence
As an interested spectator, with some distant historical relationship with the School, I would be asking who it is who takes the initiative concerning one or more of the above provisions that may have questions attached to them concerning the Board’s and/or Chairman’s conduct? Why has this not been pursued? There is a long and sad history of disfunction between the Board and the School’s Administration as illustrated by the disturbing turnover of several Principals over the past years, coincident with the arrival of some Board Members.

Stephen Saunders8:44 pm 06 Mar 20

In theory, all ACT schools are “regularly reviewed to ensure they maintain appropriate standards”. In practice, the church schools can misbehave as they please, ACT Government will do nothing. Just to rub it in, these schools are the most over-funded in Australia, about 140% of SRS.

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