21 December 2020

Brindabella College staff member made serious allegations against board chair

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Brindabella Christian College

Brindabella Christian College has been the subject of multiple governance allegations over several years. Photo: File.

Allegations of serious mismanagement have surfaced against Brindabella Christian College’s board in what appears to be a leaked email from a staff member to the ACT Education Directorate.

Region Media has been shown an email to the Education Directorate’s schools assurance section listing a number of significant allegations regarding Brindabella Board chair Greg Zwagjenberg. The email appears to be from a Brindabella Christian College staff member and was sent from a private email address on 24 October.

There is no indication whether a response was received, although Freedom of Information requests show that the Directorate has dealt with multiple complaints regarding Brindabella Christian College’s management and internal culture.

In the email, the staff member requests assistance and makes a number of very serious, although not detailed, allegations around the school’s transparency and financial processes.

Region Media has chosen not to repeat the allegations in detail which concern accurate compliance reporting, excessive legal fees, bullying of administrative staff, interference in budget processes and a lack of competitive rigour around procurement.

The email says that Mr Zwagjenberg “thinks that he is the Messiah and that God only talks through him” and alleges a threatening atmosphere for staff inside the school. It suggests that the school would be better managed without him and that he is “not a good fit with the school”.

The email concludes by quoting The Bible, John 16:13: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you all into the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

Brindabella Christian College has faced ongoing allegations of serious cultural issues inside the school for several years as its board has steadily become smaller. Two members have departed in the last year.

READ ALSO Brindabella school board loses another member, parents in the dark

Unlike other private school models, Brindabella is run by a private not-for-profit and its board is made up of company members. Parents have attempted to join the board on multiple occasions over the past three years to no avail, and Mr Zwagjenberg has previously rejected any suggestion that the school could be controlled by parents.

The Board now has three members, the statutory minimum for operation, including Mr Zwagjenberg, who is the longtime chair. Region Media has previously been told by director David Whittem that the directors are not paid.

Brindabella Christian College’s financial statements on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) website are currently overdue, but statements to the ACNC show a profit of $1.7 million from a funding mix including 47.16 per cent government grants.

The most recent financial statements available are for 2018 and do not break down costs associated with the Company’s management (rather than that of the school).

However, the key management personnel disclosures, relating to “those persons having the authority and responsibility for planning and directing the activities of the Company, directly or indirectly including directors of the Company” state that the total remuneration for these specific personnel was $458,251 in that year. It is not clear whether this sum includes director’s fees for some or any of the directors.

Region Media understands that Education Minister Yvette Berry has been briefed about numerous instances of non-compliance on the school’s behalf, including specific complaints that the school had breached Section 105 of the ACT Education Act, regarding exclusion of students after parents were alleged to have disparaged the school.

A number of questions were put to the Education Directorate by Region Media on 8 December asking what capacity the ACT Government has to de-register a privately owned and operated school, on what grounds the decision would be made, what the process would be for determining when a school no longer merited registration and whether community members could have input during the process. There has been no response to date.

Brindabella Christian College and Mr Zwagjenberg have been approached for comment.

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