A Midland principal who recently enjoyed a £50,000 pay increase has taken a “leave of absence”, with her college being forced to axe 99 jobs amid a £3 million financial black hole.
Union leaders have demanded Warwickshire College’s accounts are made public amid rising anger.
Officials confirmed to the Post that principal Mariane Cavalli, who has led the college since 2010, has started an unexplained leave of absence.
The University and College Union said a Freedom of Information request revealed Ms Cavalli enjoyed a pay increase of £50,000 in two years, to more than £200,000.
It also claims the Gazelle Group of colleges, founded by departing principal Ms Cavalli, has received more than £500,000 from the Warwickshire College.
Earlier this year Ms Cavalli said a shortfall in funding of £3 million made job losses at the college seem “inevitable” and last month that up to 99 roles were at risk of redundancy.
UCU regional official Anne O’Sullivan said: “Almost 100 members of staff at the college might lose their jobs, pay has been driven down in recent years and yet we are starting to uncover details of massive pay rises for a principal now on leave and for other senior managers.
“The college needs to open its books up and explain why such large sums were given to the Gazelle group of colleges and what new education concepts are and why they cost £324,000. We also need to know what has been spent on overseas travel and expenses, why senior managers got such big pay rises and who is getting a bonus on top of their salary and why.
“The time has come for proper scrutiny of colleges’ spending. We would urge the Public Accounts Committee to properly investigate how taxpayers’ money is being spent by our colleges.”
The college has said that with Ms Cavalli going on an unexplained “temporary leave of absence with immediate effect”, chair of governors Sue Georgious has become interim principal immediately.
The college pays £35,000 a year to be a member of the Gazelle group of colleges, founded in 2011 by five college principals including Ms Cavalli.
According to reports, the college has spent more than £200,000 on purchasing shares in Gazelle Transform and a further £324,000 for services in connection with developing a ‘new education concept’ with Gazelle Global. There is no suggestion the relationship was inappropriate. The college said in a statement: “Warwickshire College responded to the UCU Freedom of Information request in good faith and as required by legislation. We have no further comment to make on the contents of the FOI at this time.
“It should be noted that the governing board has in place robust internal and external audit processes for financial matters as required by governance arrangements in place across the further education sector.” The college said it was unable to comment further on the principal’s temporary leave of absence.
It added: “The board appointed the interim principal following due process and with the appropriate legal advice. This appointment is on an interim basis in order to ensure business as usual at the college.
“All colleges face financial challenges and Warwickshire College is no different. A dual strategy of cost saving and growth over the next three year period has been underway for some time linked with the development of a new five-year strategic vision and plan. The board are taking a robust and realistic approach to this in the current financial environment in order to strengthen and build a sustainable future for the college going forward.
“For guidance the board wish to make it clear that there is no police involvement in relation to this matter and there will not be.
“The Board of Governors of Warwickshire College can confirm that the Principal and CEO Mariane Cavalli has taken a temporary leave of absence from the college with immediate effect. The governing body has appointed Sue Georgious, the colleges’ former chair of governors, as interim principal to lead the college during this time.
“Sue knows the college well and is deeply committed to it having previously been chair of the governing body and a governor since September 2011. Steve Wood, previously vice chair, has been elected as the new chair.”