An old boys’ representative on The King’s School board has quit over plans to fly the headmaster, his deputy and their wives first class to the world’s most prestigious rowing event, the Henley Royal Regatta, to rub shoulders with the heads of Britain’s top schools.
The school’s first VIII is competing in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup for the third time since 2001, when it became one of only three Australian crews ever to win a race historically dominated by Eton College, the alma mater of princes and British prime ministers.
Multiple sources told the Herald the expenses were signed off by the school’s chair Rosemary Abrahams, the former deputy head of Abbotsleigh School. One estimate put the cost of flights and accommodation at $45,000, although the school did not confirm the figure.
However, some members of council were concerned that the expenses had not been put before the whole council for approval, the sources said. The Herald has confirmed that one council member, a representative of the old boys on council, resigned over the issue.
Other members of the school community were angry about the expenditure. “The staff were justifiably dismayed at this huge waste of money,” said one person close to the King’s community, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“The optics are terrible,” said another source close to the school. “The thing most people are upset about is it feels like on a whim the school can just snap their fingers and tickets are paid for.”
The sources said the furore led the headmaster, Tony George, and his wife to downgrade their tickets to business class, and the deputy to pay for the trip out of his own pocket. The school did not comment.
In a statement, the school said King’s was one of seven Australian members of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference (HMC), a group of more than 350 independent schools, mostly from Great Britain (members include Eton, Winchester College and Harrow School).
The six-day regatta, which starts on June 28, presented an opportunity for the headmaster to engage with “strategically relevant schools in the HMC – namely boarding schools that row, are recognised as best-in-class and are thus aligned with The King’s School – because they will all be competing at Henley,” the statement said.
“As a school of global standing, international relationships are essential to sustaining and developing key initiatives.” The regatta was also an opportunity to “further our philanthropic activities” by engaging with expatriate old boys, the statement said.
The most recent figures show that for 2020, King’s received almost $20 million in recurrent funding from state and Commonwealth governments. The school received just over $58 million in fees, charges and parent contributions for that year.
John Simpson, a specialist in education governance and a member of council at Monash University, said it was inappropriate for such a decision to be made by the chair alone. “Such expenditure should certainly come before the whole council, usually with a recommendation, in favour or against, coming from the finance committee,” he said.
King’s, in North Parramatta, was established 191 years ago. Its fees range from $24,000 for a pre-school year to $40,000 for year 12 and $69,000 for tuition and boarding in the senior school.
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