How much should you get for running a girl’s school?
On the face of it, it’s hard to know whose side to take in the row over the sacking of Methodist Ladies’ College principal Rosa Storelli.
Ms Storelli, who was put to the sword by the school’s board last week, is clearly an inspirational figure to some, and her sudden and unexpected exit has her supporters up in arms.
On the other hand, it is not in dispute that she has been overpaid a very large sum of money and the board would appear to have been within its rights to send her packing - with a nice payout, mind you - once it decided it had lost confidence in her.
Both sides are adamant that they are in the right.
Which suggests that for those of us who like to enjoy the spectacle when rich people fall out, the next few weeks are going to be a great deal of fun indeed.
But no matter whose side we are inclined to take in the matter - and I must confess my sympathies wavered during the week - there is one thing I think all of us can agree on, which is that $510,000 a year is a hell of a lot of money to be paid to run a girls’ school.
Sorry, that should be $510,000 with another $50,000 tossed in for doing a good job.
And thanks to the generosity of the Federal Government, Ms Storelli was able to pay for a lot of things including her mortgage, her car, her private credit card bills and her nanny from her pre-tax income - things that most of us have to pay with whatever we have left over after the taxman has taken his bite.
Now there is no doubt that MLC has come up in the world since my day when it was unkindly referred to as Molls’ Last Chance.
And there is equally no doubt that the duties of a headmistress, dealing with spoiled schoolgirls and their demanding parents, are onerous.
But $560,000 a year? Does running a girls’ school - even one as up itself as MLC - really merit that sort of money? The Prime Minister only gets $495,000.
Reading about Ms Storelli’s salary this week, it will have struck many parents with children at private schools that an explanation might finally be at hand for why the cost of educating their little darling has soared during a period in our history in which inflation has almost been abolished.
Likewise for those of us whose parents were able to send us to private schools on one salary back in the 1970s and ‘80s, but could never dream of doing that today.
On Friday, the school board’s deputy chairman, Brendan Fleiter, explained that while MLC was a wealthy school, it had a “diverse community”.
“Many parents make significant financial sacrifices to pay the cost of their daughters’ education at this wonderful school,” he said.
Mr Fleiter was explaining why his board will pursue Ms Storelli for the $700,000 it says she was overpaid.
But I suspect that, for many of the parents making significant financial sacrifices, the real scandal is not whether she was overpaid $100,00 or $700,000, but the fact Mr Fleiter’s board thought it was OK to pay her $560,000 in the first place.
I suspect too that, if the salaries of all MLC’s staff were to be published, we would find there was a long drop from Ms Storelli’s remuneration down to that of the poor schlubs who actually do the teaching.
Through this ugly spat we are being given a glimpse into the way the managerial class in this country has managed to show the rest of us a clean pair of heels over the past couple of decades.
Back in the 1980s, when my old man was complaining endlessly about the poor return I was giving him for all the money he was shelling out to Melbourne Grammar, being the headmaster or headmistress of an elite private school was a prestigious, but not especially well-paid, position.
This is why they and their staff were given free housing and discounted school fees for their children.
Today being a teacher at an elite private school is still a prestigious but not especially well-paid position. But as we can all see from Ms Storelli’s salary, it’s good to be the boss.
In this, headmistresses are not alone.
According to one study, executive pay in this country grew over the decade 1992-2002 from 22 times the average weekly earnings to 74 times the average weekly earnings.
Of course, compared with a banker or a QC or an equity partner at a major law or accounting firm, Ms Storelli was not well paid at all.
Which perhaps explains why the board thought $560,000 was a reasonable rather than obscene salary for a school teacher. And why the boards of these elite private schools have had no compunction about jacking up the school fees until few but themselves can afford to send their children to them.
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