Principal gambled school’s money

The principal of a school that educates socially and educationally disadvantaged children spent nearly $23,000 of the public institution’s money on vices and an overseas trip.

A Victorian principal splashed nearly $23,000 of his government-funded school’s money on alcohol, gambling and an overseas trip, exposing a “systemic weakness” in the financial governance of state schools.

The investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman revealed the man deposited cheques for the school directly into his own account between 2016 and 2018, which he had bullied staff to countersign.

The name of the school and identity of the man were not revealed in the findings of the investigation, but it disclosed the institution is located in one of Melbourne’s growth corridors where students have a higher frequency of being socially and educationally disadvantaged.

Forensic analysis of the principal showed he lived a lavish lifestyle in inner city apartments and spent $315,000 on gambling over the two year period.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said it was the fifth instance of a school principal coming under scrutiny in recent years, insisting a school’s governance should be better equipped to spot such egregious misuse of public money.

Investigators found the principal had been declared bankrupt before being appointed into the senior position with a history of gambling — problematic attributes for an individual given power of a school with a budget of $10 million.

In 2017, cheques totalling $8800 that were supposed to be spent on laptops were deposited into the principal’s account before he went on an overseas trip with his family.

He also splashed $1200 at a pub for staff and $10,000 on stamps and various gift cards.

Analysis of his finances also revealed the principal, who initially collected an income of more than $140,000, spent money on luxurious expenses including private school fees and a beachside penthouse in Queensland.

The man initially denied to investigators that he had deposited the school’s money into his own account.

But his story changed when he was repeatedly challenged and he eventually admitted the transfer of the funds “had nothing to do with the holiday. It was all about gambling at this point”.

Ms Glass said the repetition of improper conduct by Victorian principals wasn’t a reflection of the calibre of the vast majority of dedicated and hardworking individuals in the sector.

“But their decisions and actions, in effect as the CEOs of small to medium-sized enterprises, inevitably attract scrutiny,” she said in her findings.

“I am tabling this report because it highlights an important and systemic weakness in the financial governance of our schools.

“The principal in this case was able to get away with his actions for so long because the systems and controls did not work.”

The ombudsman said the school’s business manager, council and treasurer all lacked the qualifications and experience to challenge the principal on the pocketing of the government-funded institution’s money.

“The Department of Education and Training missed red flags that might have uncovered some of the conduct sooner.”

In a response to NCA NewsWire, the department said it accepted the ombudsman’s findings and was committed to upholding an ethical culture and “robust financial management”.

“This issue was raised with the department through its existing whistleblower processes,” a spokesperson said.

“Accordingly, the department took appropriate action by reporting the matter to IBAC (Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission) in accordance with its obligations under the Protected Disclosure Act 2012. IBAC in turn subsequently referred the matter to the ombudsman.

“The report sets out the range of increased support, training and guidance provided by the department to principals, business managers and school council members between 2016 and 2020.”

The spokesperson said the department had already implemented the report’s recommendations to improve financial management and prevent fraud and corruption.

“School councils are supported to strengthen their performance by developing their skills, knowledge and contributions through targeted professional development regularly updated by the department.”

The principal has repaid $6901 in outstanding school funds and no longer works at the school or in any public service position in Victoria.

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