By Lucy Carroll
Business class flights taken by the wife of The King’s School’s headmaster to an elite British rowing regatta will need to be repaid, after an investigation found it was an improper use of its funds and a breach of the Education Act.
Last year, the Herald revealed plans by the school’s head Tony George and his deputy, and both their spouses, to fly first class to watch the King’s First VIII race in the schoolboys’ Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup.
Plans for the trip, estimated to have cost at least $45,000, prompted an old boys’ representative on the school’s board to quit, and sparked concern among others that the expenses had not been put before the whole council for approval.
The NSW Department of Education later launched an audit of the school due to concerns about possible misuse of taxpayers’ money after consulting the non-government schools not-for-profit advisory committee. Under the Education Act, private schools receiving public funding must ensure all income is used for educational objectives.
“Following an investigation, the education minister declared The King’s School to be a non-compliant school and imposed conditions on the school’s future financial assistance,” a NSW Department of Education spokesperson said.
“Any non-government school receiving public funding is expected to ensure all income is used for the education of its students.”
The department confirmed the school had been ordered to recover the costs for the flights for the head’s wife, and must provide evidence of the repayment to the department’s not-for-profit advisory committee. The investigation found the costs of deputy’s wife had already been repaid.
The school must also “engage and pay for an independent and suitably qualified professional consultant to review and provide recommendations to update the school’s travel policy”.
“The updated travel policy must meet the not-for-profit requirements and contain a clearly documented governance and decision-making process for the approval of travel arrangements,” the department’s spokesperson said.
“If the school fails to comply with any of the conditions, funding may be suspended until the relevant conditions are satisfied, and the advisory committee recommends that any suspension of financial assistance be lifted.”
Multiple sources told the Herald at the time that the flights were meant to be first class, an expense signed off by the school’s chairwoman Rosemary Abrahams, but were later downgraded to business class.
The furore led the deputy to pay for the trip out of his own pocket, sources said. The flight costs for the headmaster do not need to be repaid.
The school has previously defended the trip, saying it was standard practice among private schools to fly principals overseas with their spouses, and customary for the King’s head to travel business class. “These arrangements are entirely consistent with those of other independent schools that we are usually compared to,” Abrahams wrote in a letter to parents last year.
She outlined that the headmaster’s contract included the council’s expectations that he travel internationally with his wife. It was also longstanding practice to fly business class.
In February, the school was also ordered by the state government to “immediately cease” the planned construction of a plunge pool at the headmaster’s on-site residence.
Construction of the pool would have been in breach of the school’s obligation not to operate for profit, an investigation found.
“The payments are not required for the operation of the school ... and are unreasonable in the circumstances having regard to the fact that financial assistance is provided to the school by the minister,” a letter sent by the department said.
Both the plans for the plunge pool and flights provoked anger among some parents, with one member of the school community describing the optics as “terrible”.
King’s, in North Parramatta, was established 191 years ago. Its fees range from $24,000 for a pre-school year to $42,000 for year 12. In 2021, the school received almost $14 million in government funding.
George, the 20th headmaster at the school, has recently signed a five-year extension to his contract.
The Herald understands that King’s engaged MinterEllison to manage the auditing process for the school while it was being investigated over the flights and plunge pool.
A spokesman for the school said, “The department asked that the non-compliant proportion of the expenditure be repaid, that the school’s travel policy be updated, and that the policy be externally reviewed. These actions have been taken and the matter has been resolved.”
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