Uniting Church defends decision to close school

THE Uniting Church has defended its decision to close Acacia College in the face of growing anger from parents and students, saying it never sought to be financially involved in the school.

In a letter to Uniting Church congregations, the church's standing committee said the resolution to close Acacia College, which had 540 students from prep to year 9, was the hardest decision it had ever made.

It said an independent review would analyse how the project went wrong and how the church could improve its due diligence, governance and other processes that led to this ''sad day''.

The letter comes as the church comes under intense pressure from the Acacia College community, many of whom have written to moderator Isabel Thomas Dobson accusing the church of dropping a bombshell without regard to the community.

Staff at the school are also grappling for answers after learning the school would close at the end of the year at 4.30pm on Wednesday - just hours before the meeting of parents was held.

Six years ago, the then presbytery of Yarra Valley presented the church's standing committee with a ''vision'' for the Acacia Ministry Centre, which would include two congregations joining together, the school, a kindergarten, sporting facilities and maybe even a maternal health centre.

''It was a big vision, but it was never the intent of the church to pay for this vision,'' Ms Thomas Dobson and general secretary Peter Blackwood said in the letter sent to Uniting Church ministers on Saturday evening.

A developer, Bruce Dorgan, was identified to build the project and Acacia College and the ministry would be tenants.

However the letter said the church had to step in and organise loans for the project to continue when the developer could not source enough funds.

The subsequent history was a very ''complex multi-stepped story'', which included a halt to to the building project, legal action between the developer and the church, new project managers and further loans being drawn down by the church to ensure the school could grow.

The Age believes the Uniting Church has accrued more than $40 million in debt in building and operating Acacia College, which opened in 2010 in Mernda.

The church recently learnt it was faced with another $10 million bill from the City of Whittlesea for traffic works outside the school.

''Financial modelling demonstrated that based on its chosen education model and the further funds needed to complete the school and meet council compliance requirements, Acacia College would not be viable,'' the letter said.

But parent Katie Sykes said 2½ years was not long enough for a multimillion-dollar investment to show any sign of monetary gain. ''Instead of bringing the Acacia College community the facts and then discussing the possible options, you have been the judge, jury and executioner of an amazing and imperative resource that is desperately needed in this growing and thriving community,'' she said in a letter to Ms Thomas Dobson.

Year 7 student Sienna Cater said she cried for three days after she heard the news. ''I know students that were bullied and/or have learning difficulties at other schools and saw Acacia was a safer school, and it is,'' Sienna wrote in a letter to the moderator.

''It is absolutely disgusting how we weren't told months ago of financial woes and debt . . It is outrageous!''

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