THE principal of elite Melbourne girls' school Methodist Ladies College has denied any wrongdoing, saying she was in ''absolute shock'' and considering her legal options after she was sacked for receiving ''significant overpayments''.
The Age understands that MLC's board of directors believes Rosa Storelli - one of the country's most high-profile school leaders - was overpaid by more than $500,000 over 15 years.
The nine non-executive board of directors of the prestigious Kew school unanimously voted to terminate Ms Storelli's employment after a Deloitte review revealed, among other matters, ''significant overpayments of remuneration to Ms Storelli''.
''The board has not accused Ms Storelli of any dishonest conduct or fraudulent behaviour,'' chairwoman Louise Adler, the CEO of Melbourne University Publishing, said in a letter to parents last night.
However, she said, the board, which includes Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour, former La Trobe deputy vice-chancellor Professor Belinda Probert and KPMG partner Bernard Salt - was determined the overpayments be ''rectified''.
Ms Adler said the board had tried for six weeks to resolve the issues with Ms Storelli but ''disappointingly'' a resolution could not be reached.
''Ultimately the board lost confidence in Ms Storelli as principal and her position became untenable.''
Ms Storelli, who has been denied access to her work email, last night said she completely rejected Ms Adler's insinuations.
''The calculation of my remuneration has always been a matter between the board, the finance team at the college and Deloitte, who have been advising the board for the past decade. As principal, I have never been involved in the calculation of my remuneration.''
An emotional Ms Storelli said she had done nothing wrong and had refused to resign. ''I'm stunned, I'm shocked. I believe I've been served a great injustice. I love my job. I have been here for 20 years.''
Ms Storelli said the board had refused to show her the Deloitte report or contact the three former chairs of the board with whom she had worked.
''The overpayment apparently started when I was in the school residential home 15 years ago,'' Ms Storelli said. ''I've said surely you need to speak to chairs of the previous board who set up my contract arrangement.''
Former Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson, who chaired the MLC board of directors for five years in the 2000s, confirmed she had not been contacted by the present board.
''I was unaware of any financial irregularities while I was there,'' Ms Jackson told The Age.
''During the time I was chairman of the board I found Rosa to be an outstanding principal and I think there is a generation of girls who owe a lot to Rosa's leadership. She conducted herself with the highest principles.''
Former chairwoman Lyndsey Cattermole said ''during my five years as chair of MLC Rosa was an exceptional principal and leader. It's a terribly sad day for her and the school.''
MLC is a school of the Uniting Church in Australia. Founded in 1882, it has assets of $102 million, had a revenue of $57.3 million in 2011 and operates several business units - including a music academy, a sports club and a clothing shop.
The school, which charges fees of up to $23,490 a year in year 12, has 2200 students and a full-time equivalent staff of 460.
Ms Storelli, a former deputy chancellor of Melbourne University, is a member of the Australian Institute of Management and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
She said she had asked for mediation from the moderator of the Uniting Church but the board refused, saying the church had no jurisdiction over it.
''If that's the case they should take the Uniting Church off their marketing material,'' Ms Storelli said.
She said the values of the school had not been upheld in her termination process. ''I expect an initial hearing before the Moderator of the Uniting Church early next week,'' she said.
Ms Adler said in the letter to parents the decision had been made after ''serious and very careful consideration'' and the ''very best interest of the college'' was their main concern.
''Each of the directors shares my view that our responsibility is to be both stewards and custodians of a venerable institution with a remarkable 130-year history,'' the letter said.
''That history and indeed the long-standing tradition of adherence to the highest ethical standards have governed our decision making in this difficult period.'' She said while the review disclosed serious issues, she wished to assure parents that MLC remained in a stable and robust financial situation.
Despite sacking Ms Storelli, the board said it wished to pay tribute to her leadership over the past 15 years. The letter said that Ms Storelli had ensured that MLC remained at the forefront of educational innovation and provided a richly supportive environment for students.
Ms Adler told The Age she could not feel more sad and disappointed by the outcome.
''The decision was taken with a lot of heartache,'' she said.
Vice-principal Debbie Dunwoody has been appointed acting principal, while an international search has begun for a new principal.