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HomeIssue 4Cultural centre promoter in trouble with school finances

Cultural centre promoter in trouble with school finances

By JULIUS DENNIS

The chief promoter of the National Indigenous Cultural Centre, for which the NT Government has set aside $20m, was in a leading role at the Yipirinya School which is now under statutory management.

Harold Furber, who might have been holding the position of chairman without being elected, has not provided information sought by the Alice Springs News and neither have the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, nor the manager.

This makes it impossible to ask questions about any amounts of money owed, and to whom.

The most recent profit and loss statement available to us is from 2019, which states an income of $6m and a surplus of $1.2m.

However, leaked documents call into question the surplus.

It is also alleged that members were expelled without proper procedure.

While the school has operated with varying levels of success, the most recent information shows it having only a 34% attendance rate in 2019. This amounts to 56 students.

It appears that the Yipirinya School may have been running without a properly elected committee between 2018 and 2020, calling into question the legitimacy and decision making of the school’s leadership.

The committee is elected once every three years at the school’s annual general meeting (AGM) and requires a quorum of at least 10 members to be attending in person.

It is unclear that an AGM took place when the 2015 to 2018 committee should have  been officially dissolved. Instead, it would seem that Mr Furber continued in his role as chair without an official election, while also appointing Dawn Ross, who had been on the previous board, as committee secretary.

The  Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), under which the Yipirinya School is registered, maintains that “charities must provide information of all board members to be listed as Responsible Persons,” and that “charities must tell the ACNC each and every time a Responsible Person takes on or finishes a role as a Responsible Person”.

Yet Ms Ross has not been named as a board member on the site, let alone as the secretary. 

Glen Sharpe and Amelia Turner also appear as committee members in the 2018 annual report, having previously not been a part of school leadership between 2015 and 2018, but do appear on the ACNC site.

Dawn Ross was the second signatory on the 2019 Financial Report. Amelia Turner was in 2018.

Further, allegations have arisen that Ms Ross and Mr Furber were holding meetings and making decisions without a quorum of committee members (at least half attending), directly contradicting terms of the school’s constitution.

A falling out in leadership followed when these meetings came to light in mid 2020, resulting in the questionable expulsion of several members of the school’s association, the body that elects the committee.

An AGM was advertised as the “combined 2018 and 2019 Annual General Meeting” on the school website for 27 November 2020.

It is again unclear what was discussed at this meeting but at some point since, Margaret Fenbury was appointed the Statutory Manager of the school by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.

Leaked emails show that multiple government departments were made aware of inconsistencies in how the school was being run.

Chief amongst administrative wrongs was claiming extra students on the school census. The number of extra students, not actually attending, proffered in different emails and documents ranges between 13 and 50.

Failure by teachers to record data on students with disabilities resulted in $900,000 having to be paid back to National Consistency Collection Data (NCCD) in 2019.

Raised by multiple past employees and in leaked emails is the vagueness of the accounting in the financial work provided to the ACNC.

Grant money received, rather than being presented as particular and individual sums and names, are lumped into a single figure year after year, creating a murky statement of finances.

Christopher Tee of Araluen Taxation Services (ATS) was the subcontracted accountant for the Yipirinya School throughout this period.

Documents provided to the News show that the estimated figure for accounting and bookkeeping services by ATS is $77,268 annually, a number that is repeated in the budget for the years 2016 to 2018.

However, yearly financial reports show a higher amount is payed for these services every year: $109,221 in 2017, $122,717 in 2018 and $111,563 in 2019.

Mr Tee, when asked to comment, said in an email: “From the historical information you have provided , please note that the scope of works and services provide by ATS have expanded since the 2016 proposal.”

While there may be reasons for this uptick, why the budget figure never waivers is unclear.

These fee rises would have to be signed off by committee members.

The Yipirinya School, Mr Furber and Ms Ross have all been approached for comment.

The Yipirinya School is an independent institution with a long history in Alice Springs. It focusses on two-way learning and providing education for Aboriginal students, particularly from town camps.

Images from the school’s website.

Last updated 12 February 2021, 2.42pm.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps it needs to be transferred to the Department of Education where seasoned governance and administration is available from experienced credentialed professionals.
    It’s about children’s education at the end of the day.

  2. A couple of years ago I filed a complaint against a charity in relation to its financial records with the ACNC.
    This involved perusal of the Charities Act. I saw a list of registered ACNC charities in Australia. There were more than 20,000 and still counting. I was staggered.
    Every person and his or her dog seems to have a registered charity these days. It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to suspect there must be a lurk in having a registered charity.
    I wonder if the ACNC has the resources to police them all. Could this be a reason for tardy investigation of this school’s finances, I wonder?

  3. So the school outsources its bookkeeping to an organisation that charges about 2% of the school’s total budget? Really?
    To put it in perspective, that’s about 1.5 full time people, so all I can conclude is that the school accounts must indeed be very complex.
    So if they are stupid enough to pay it, good on Mr Tee.
    Have to agree with Pseudo Guru on this.

  4. Julius, the AGMs are supposed to be held yearly. The 2019 AGM was cancelled by Harold and Dawn with no notice given, even though they were told this was unconstitutional.
    Other board members were not involved in the decision to cancel the AGM i.e. it was done without a quorum.
    It was believed at the time that Harold and Dawn were concerned some community families were coordinating to vote them out and wanted to avoid a (legitimate) vote. Please keep digging.
    The info about paying back the disability money is correct. That principal resigned. The next principal balanced the books (at least as far as Chris Tee’s figures went) but clashed with Harold and Dawn and was sacked via kangaroo court.
    There is so much wrong at that school, and certain names come up again and again.

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