Scandal-plagued private school’s latest drama
AN ELITE Gold Coast private school that has been rocked by scandal is again embroiled in controversy, this time over multimillion dollar building works.
Complaints from concerned parents about alleged conflicts of interest involving the works at Hillcrest Christian College have been referred to the State Government's private schools watchdog.
The college recently underwent a $5 million extension, with major work performed by two companies associated with current and former college board members.
Both companies have also undertaken millions of dollars in other building projects at the Baptist Church-run college, which receives about $17 million a year in federal funding.
It's understood that college policies caution directors to avoid conflicts of interest, a warning echoed by Independent Schools Queensland in its governance manual.
Hillcrest parents, who have seen college fees soar by up to $836 this year - the steepest of any Gold Coast private school - have raised concerns about the alleged conflict of interest with the Non-State Schools Accreditation Board.
"Nepotism is staring us in the face every time we walk past the new precinct," one said.
"The whole thing stinks. Did these jobs go out to tender or were they just jobs for the boys?"
A Hillcrest spokesman said all works had gone to tender, "with contracts won on merit".
"The (college) board and NSSAB have watched the process closely and know this to be the case," he said.
The spokesman said the NSSAB had advised that no complaints had been received or acted on relating to alleged conflicts of interest.
But The Courier-Mail understands the NSSAB is investigating wide-ranging allegations, including those relating to conflicts of interest.
After months of turmoil, the college announced in December that the NSSAB "will be conducting an assessment of administration and governance of the school".
Hillcrest was last year rocked by unrest, including bullying allegations against principal Jeff Davis - which he strenuously denied - the suspension and departure of senior staff and controversy over hundreds of thousands of dollars in school loans to a private company set up to commercialise a reading program.
At a final staff meeting late last year, Mr Davis - who earns more than $400,000 a year - dismissed reports of the school's troubles as 'fake news'.
But in a letter to parents a week later, the college board confirmed an NSSAB probe was underway.
"The assessment follows allegations made to the NSSAB which have also been made through the media on a number of occasions throughout the past year," the board said.
"The allegations have never been raised directly with the Board or through the College's formal procedures for properly dealing with complaints.
"These allegations have been damaging to the reputation of the College and our staff. We see the NSSAB assessment as an opportunity to deal with them once and for all, so the process has our full support and we will provide whatever information if requested."
The board said it was confident the college had complied with its legal and professional obligations "at all times and we look forward to the results of the assessment in due course".