Queries on school finance reporting

THE private education union says the collapse of Acacia College in Melbourne's north has shaken its confidence in the reporting processes for independent schools.

Independent Education Union general secretary Debra James said she did not hold specific concerns about the financial health of other private schools but she acknowledged that ''Acacia was not on our radar at all''.

''We are beginning to lose confidence in the systems and processes in place, whether school authorities are properly reporting their financial situations and, if they are, whether issues are being picked up by those to whom reports are made,'' she said.

The Uniting Church, which runs Acacia College in Mernda, announced last week the school would close in December.

The Age has previously reported the low-fee private school was buckling under a $40 million debt.

Acacia's closure comes after Mowbray College, which had three campuses in Melton and Caroline Springs, collapsed earlier this year.

The Education Department said all schools were required to submit annual reports to the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.

A department spokesman said schools were also required to account for their spending of government money in the year it was granted.

''Acacia College is not closing due to financial mismanagement,'' he said. ''It is closing due to the fact that the Uniting Church has made a decision to cease funding, which was previously provided to the school.''

The Age believes the church also faced a $10 million bill for infrastructure works, including roads and lighting, outside the school.

Melbourne University's Richard Teese said private schools should face more rigorous reporting procedures because they received funding from the government. ''A huge point about this is that the public has invested a lot of money in that college,'' Professor Teese said. ''There has to be accountability for that. There has to be an explanation to the state and federal governments.''

Professor Teese said parents were also owed an explanation about what went wrong at Acacia. ''Parents are forking out money on the assumption that there's an oversight,'' he said.

But a Uniting Church spokesman said its other schools remained viable. There are 15 Uniting Church schools in Victoria and Tasmania, including the prestigious Methodist Ladies College.

''We can say categorically that no other school is carrying an unsustainable debt load or operating an unsustainable business model,'' the spokesman said.

The Uniting Church will launch an investigation into how it accumulated the debt.

The spokesman said the Uniting Church had discussed transferring the school to the Catholic Church but other buyers were also interested.

''We are hopeful of finding a buyer to take over the school's operation from 2013,'' he said. ''We are also talking to a number of other parties.''

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