Respected former Somerville House Council members join criticism

Two respected former members of the Somerville House School Council have joined the outcry against the school's governing body, claiming they were kept out of decisions and slamming a "so called ???independent investigation'".

In a joint statement issued on Friday, University of Queensland senior law lecturer Sarah Kelly and former St Laurence's College principal Ian McDonald responded in detail to a range of comments from Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association chairman Greg Adsett.

It came as the Somerville House Foundation also went public with criticism of the school's governing body amid growing anger from parents past and present.

Tensions have been escalating over several weeks after donors were warned of an alleged "serious security incident" by a former school employee before an intriguing text message exchange emerged and principal Flo Kearney's resignation triggered a string of other high-profile departures.

Reports by News Corp of a 2015 Deloitte report considering a more centralised model for the four respected schools under the PMSA banner further fuelled the fire.

The PMSA, also responsible for Clayfield College, Brisbane Boys College and Sunshine Coast Grammar School, said "no plans exist to centralise the operations of our schools".

The issues came to a head on Thursday, when Mrs Kearney was stood down effective immediately, instead of finishing out the year as planned.

Newly formed protest group Beyond PMSA organised a snap gathering and within 24 hours close to 100 parents, students and supporters were at the school gates, chanting "PMSA must go" and calling for an independent inquiry.

In response, the PMSA, newly assisted by a Sydney-based crisis management firm, put up Mr Adsett to address radio listeners.

He insisted the association's decisions were all made for the benefit of the school and was particularly strong in his defence of former Somerville House company secretary Rick Hiley.

Mr Hiley moved from the school to the governing body earlier this year but triggered a warning letter to donors and threats of a court injunction from the school foundation when he downloaded data onto a portable hard drive.

"Mr Rick Hiley didn't do anything inappropriately," Mr Adsett said, citing an independent investigation he said had cleared the man of any wrongdoing, saying the data was for doing work at home and had all been destroyed.

But Dr Kelly and Mr McDonald called the transparency of the report into question, saying it had been commissioned by the governing body after a complaint from Mr Hiley and not been shown to any non-PMSA school council members.

Dr McDonald resigned on Thursday, saying he could "no longer stomach the behaviour of the PMSA council" and Dr Kelly resigned on August 31, alleging fundamental failures of governance and due process, the pair said.

They said Mr Hiley's complaints stemmed from a June meeting with Uniting Church Reverend Murray Fysh and Mrs Kearney, both since resigned, in which they raised "allegations of serious misconduct arising out of his employment at Somerville House."

"That meeting ended with Rev Fysh ensuring that Mr Hiley departed the school premises," the former councillors said.

Mr Hiley did not return a call to comment and the PMSA's communications contractor did not comment either.

Dr Kelly and Mr McDonald detailed multiple refusals from the PMSA to share the report and stated text messages discussing attending a nearby spa for lunch with former PMSA chair Robert McCall were not included in the investigation.

The Somerville House Foundation, which was understood to have sided against the PMSA, also took issue with Mr Adsett's comments, claiming Mr Hiley had copied more than 6000 files from former employers Lifeline, TAFE Queensland and the Foundation.

"The Foundation received legal advice to the effect that the failure to keep personal identifying information secure is a breach of the principles of the Privacy Act," it said, in a statement issued on Friday.

The school council's one remaining "independent community member", Russell Bird, had already harshly criticised the PMSA in a letter earlier in the week, saying he warned of a "public brawl" if the controversy around Mr Hiley and former PMSA chairman Rob McCall was not resolved.

"Although I had a very good relationship with Rick Hiley, I saw no alternative to terminating his employment. The PMSA obviously saw things differently," he wrote.

"Now three careers have been destroyed, I believe because of the inability of the PMSA to see that inaction was always going to produce this result."

Mr Bird said Mrs Kearney had been "severely punished because she brought to light the major facts in the case".

"The public characterisation to date of these four matters is deeply regrettable," the PMSA said in a Thursday statement.

"The PMSA has at all times sought to engage constructively with all stakeholders while balancing the need for sensitivity and confidentiality where it is required."

This story Respected former Somerville House Council members join criticism first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.