Embattled Brindabella Christian College is offering parents at their Charnwood campus a special, one-off ‘Principal’s Sibling Discretionary Discount’, dependent in part on “positive partnerships with the College”.
Region Media has been shown the school’s fee schedule for 2020, which offers the discount on full fees but warns that “full fees may be re-instated and claimed by the College if the above terms are not met”.
Parents have questioned whether this is in effect a loyalty incentive, designed to lock in certain families by giving them an economic motivation for toeing the line on school policy. There are allegations that other families in clear financial need have been denied assistance on the grounds of perceived disloyalty.
While discounts are not uncommon at fee-paying schools where several children attend at the same time, the Brindabella offer is substantial: a 75 per cent reduction for the second child, while the third child attends for free.
Basic fees for the school range from $5600 in the junior school to $9460 in senior years. There are additional levies in senior years ranging from Visual Arts at $75 per semester to Outdoor Education at $275 per semester. Fees also apply to design technology and food technology.
The fee schedule also asks “How can you help the college?” and gives details for how to donate to the school’s tax-deductible Building Fund. Money is currently being raised to fully furbish the new Multipurpose School Hall.
“There are huge problems with the discretionary fee reduction,” Brindabella parents told Region Media this week. “They’re just trying to pay for loyalty. Where are the clear and measurable processes around this, where is the transparency and trust around who is given the discount and why?”
The ACT Human Rights Commission has also confirmed that they are now engaged with Brindabella Christian College. The ACT government is conducting an audit of the school’s compliance with requirements, while WorkSafe ACT last week gave the school until March to address six notifications concerning their processes around bullying and harassment.
Region Media has been told that there were dramatic scenes at last week’s end of year assembly when the school captain acknowledged the toll being taken on the Brindabella community by the continuing unrest. Paying tribute to principal Christine Lucas, who left the school in June, the school captain thanked teachers for their support, prompting emotional responses from the school community.
“There was huge applause at her tribute to Christine and for going off-script. We heard that the school had actually removed the paragraph about Christine, but she said it anyway, and she hadn’t told anyone she was going to pay tribute to the staff.
“People were super impressed at her courage and her grace. She wasn’t rude or derogatory, she just said what needed to be said,” according to a parent who was present at the event.
Following her departure from the approved script, the captain took no further part in the assembly. Staff also intervened without notice to edit a video prepared by Year 12 students who had interviewed fellow students, acting principal Suzanne Power and Greg Zwajgenberg, who has chaired the board for the last 16 years.
Liberal Opposition leader Alistair Coe was present at the assembly, and Senator Zed Seselja is also understood to have attended in part.
The school captain’s family has been involved in a dispute with the school since August. They were among a number of parents expressing concerns about Brindabella’s finances and staff welfare. Their daughter was reportedly dragged into the conflict during the school year and the ACT Human Rights Commission is now facilitating conciliation between the parties.
A total of 220 students are believed to have left Brindabella Christian College in 2019, along with at least three dozen staff.
In 2017, Mr Zwajgenberg warned that “the devil has his sights on Christian education”. But this time around, it appears that the Work Safe commissioner may be the more pressing threat.