Parents seek control of troubled Islamic College of South Australia

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MEREDITH BOOTH
The Australian
February 7, 2017

Islamic College of South Australia’s principal and chairman have resigned amid a “toxic” board environment, leaving parents to seek control of the 600-student school in peril of losing government funding.

Acting principal Lynda ­­­Mac­leod resigned on Friday, days into the new school year, while ­chairman Mohamad Abdalla is expected to step down today after a two-month stint in the role in which he “just couldn’t function in a toxic environment”.

Professor Abdalla, University of South Australia Centre for Islamic Thought and Education director, said he had not managed to convene a full board meeting and refused to be dragged into legal proceedings.

It follows recent resignations of two independent directors and “concerns from parents that it is not appropriate for the remaining two board members to manage the school because of their connections with the landlord Muslims Australia.

Formerly the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, ­Muslims Australia is believed to be in dispute with the federal ­government over rent being charged at the school in ­Adelaide’s inner-western suburbs.

Dr Macleod, an experienced educator and former independent Schools Board Association consultant, said the college’s ­kindergarten to Year 12 campus had been operating well in the first weeks of the year, with a 15 per cent increase in student enrolments from the previous year before the recent board ­ructions.

“I’m very worried for both state funding and commonwealth. I don’t know what terms and conditions have been placed on it but the school needs a board and it needs a functioning board,’’ Dr Macleod said.

Parents, who met on Sunday to install a caretaker board, hope to reinstate Dr Macleod for 28 days until a new principal and board can be appointed.

A spokeswoman for the ­parents, Fatima Kazem, who has a son and a daughter in early ­primary years at the school, said parents were “devastated” with the board’s conflict but were ­confident that the school had a strong future.

“We do have the children’s best interest at heart and we do want to work with the government and its requirements,’’ Ms Kazem said.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said last month that the Adelaide college, alongside a sister school in Canberra, had not been meeting strict conditions placed on them and were required to demonstrate that they were operating in compliance with funding.

The school receives about $4.5 million a year, one of six ­Islamic schools around Australia that have come under scrutiny over the use of funds.

Three schools under the Muslims Australia banner in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne were found to comply with government requirements.

The board of Sydney’s Malek Fahd school is appealing against a decision made in December by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to uphold the government’s $19m cut from what is the largest of the six schools, following an audit that showed the board was not spending all of the money on educating its 2400 students.