THE former executive and deputy headteachers of the city's largest school could be forced to pay back thousands of pounds from their excessive pay packets, the Echo can reveal.
The decision by the governing body at West Exe Technology College to seek legal advice into the matter comes after the publication of a report into the financial management of the school by former executive head Steve Maddern (inset) and former chair of governors Paul Smith.
The audit report, carried out by Devon County Council, looked into the running of the school in recent years and criticised the close relationship between Mr Maddern and Mr Smith.
It stated that Mr Maddern's "significantly higher than normal" salary of £156,000 came about after he, at the request of Mr Smith, produced what is described as "misleading" information with regard to national pay scales and potential pay rises.
The £86,000 salary of his wife Beverley, who was senior deputy headteacher, was also deemed excessive by auditors.
Mr and Mrs Maddern both resigned from their posts in the spring.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has welcomed the governors' move in the interest of recovering tax-payers money as a result of a salary that was "inappropriately set".
Chair of governors Peter Scott said the decision to take legal advice on whether it is now possible to "claw back" any of the Madderns' salaries was taken last week.
"The auditors' report did not specify requirements for us to recover any of their salaries," he said.
"However, as a result of what was found in the report we are seeking legal advice which will determine whether we can make a reclaim.
"It's right that we should follow this up and find out if it's possible to make a recovery, in the interests of the school and the students who are obviously affected by financial decisions.
"So we've got to do whatever we can to do the right thing and should readily investigate it to make sure we're clear as to what the options available to us are."
Mr Scott said once the legal advice has concluded, it will be a decision for the board of governors to decide whether it would be in the "financial interests" of the school to pursue a claim.
He said the board would also decide whether to re-adjust their pensions.
Devon County Council said it does not hold information on the couple's pensions.
Mr Scott said a key issue was "protecting the financial interests of the school and students".
He said: "The process itself will cost money, so we will have to look at whether it's in the interests of the college to pursue. It could be that clawing back some of the money is appropriate, but until we have a clear picture of whether we have an option to reclaim any money, it's difficult to say if we will do one or both. If the finishing salary is wrong, by default the pensions should change."
Parent governor Heather Morris, also a city councillor for Cowick, said: "Morally, the money should be reclaimed and if the legal advice is such that it is possible, I'll certainly be supporting the governing body in looking into it further.
"I would hope the governing body would look into the possibility of getting their pensions readjusted as well.
"But I want to be aware of all the facts and would want the governing body to have a full discussion."
Mr Bradshaw added: "I have already asked Devon County Council what action it intends taking to recover public funds and ensure pension liabilities are properly set.
"The public and taxpayers would find it very difficult to accept having to fund pension payments based on a final salary which was set inappropriately in the first place."