A GROUP of parents, former staff and community members are demanding answers as to why Bendigo South East College principal Ernie Fleming remains on an extended absence.
They are meeting tonight to set out a plan to publicly pressure the Department of Education and Training for answers.
It comes as education minister James Merlino reveals he shares the group’s concerns.
“I have asked the department to resolve these issues with urgency, because parents, students and staff deserve certainty over the long term leadership of their school,” he said.
Mr Merlino did not respond to a Bendigo Advertiser question about whether he had set the department a deadline to resolve the issue, which began before term 1 in 2017.
The Bendigo Advertiser understands Mr Fleming has been the subject of a departmental investigation.
Laurie Whelan is a former BSE parent and is part of the group arguing for a resolution.
He said it was time for Mr Merlino to set the education department a deadline.
“This thing has been dragging on. Giving the department a deadline gives the school community certainty about what is happening,” he said.
Tonight’s discussion is the latest in a series which have also included an approach to member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan.
A spokesperson for Ms Allan confirmed she had then raised the concerns with the minister for education.
Mr Whelan said he was disgusted at the treatment of Mr Fleming, noting that after well over a year of uncertainty there was no clear sign the process was coming to an end.
“There was a feeling within the community, when this first happened, that this investigation needed to take its course. But it’s been 15-or-so months and there is still no resolution,” he said.
Mr Whelan was concerned that school holidays were beginning at the end of the week, and that when classes resumed the department may still be unable to give a definitive answer about Mr Fleming’s employment.
Current acting principal Dale Pearce will finish his tenure and return to Bendigo Senior Secondary College at the end of the term. He will be replaced by Julie Robertson, Swan Hill College’s principal.
BSE college council president Sue Masters said the school had been fortunate to have someone with Mr Pearce’s experience in Mr Fleming’s absence. She said Ms Robertson would bring an impressive skill-set and capacity.
Ms Masters reiterated the council’s stance that Mr Fleming’s employment matter should remain a private and confidential one between him and the department.
She moved to assure the school community the college was running well in Mr Fleming’s absence.
“Everything Ernie has done, he has done for the school, there is no question about that. He has had a tremendous influence on the growth of Bendigo South East,” Ms Masters said.
“But the school is not one person. There are 1500 plus students and a huge teaching staff.”
Ms Masters sympathised with those who were concerned about Mr Fleming’s absence.
“Their concerns are for the best interests of the school. Everyone’s hearts are in the right place,” she said.
Mr Merlino also reached out to the school community.
“I want to thank parents and students of Bendigo South East College for their patience and understanding throughout what has been a complicated and delicate situation,” he said.