Maria Francisco is principal of Renaissance Middle School, part of the Montclair Public Schools District. Parent Leslie Rubisch says Francisco, who is a gay woman and an immigrant, is an “outstanding principal and amazing role model” who has transformed the school into a “special place” where children learn and morale is high.
Yet Francisco may be on her way out: in 2020 she replaced former Renaissance Middle School principal Joseph Putrino, whom the school board put on unpaid administrative leave after he, according to North Jersey Media, showed “a video of a Black man, played by comedian Josh Pray, yelling about virtual learning and the difficulties of home-schooling, to staff during a Zoom meeting. It triggered complaints from some teachers and the Montclair Branch of the NAACP.” A year earlier six Black teachers at the district’s Glenfield Middle School, where Putrino was then principal, charged he “only gave white teachers the opportunity to teach more classes and earn more pay.”
Racist predilections aside, an “arbitrator ruled that Putrino must be “immediately” reinstated as Renaissance principal,” with back pay for his 120-day suspension period, saying the district did not have “just cause” for his firing. And last month, an Essex County judge confirmed that ruling.
Putrino has tenure. Francisco doesn’t because she’s only been principal for two years and it takes four years to get tenure.So, regardless of effectiveness, Putrino is in and Francisco is out.
David Cantor, the district’s communications director, said, “we’re aware of the strong parent support for Ms. Francisco and the relationships she’s built this year with her students. We’ll continue to work in their best interests.”
But the district can’t buck the state’s teacher tenure law, even if retaining Francisco is in the best interests of students, of whom 25% are Black.
Here’s an idea: what if we adopt the recommendation of the National Council on Teacher Quality by acknowledging the importance of seniority but creating a tenure policy that ensures staff effectiveness is the most influential factor? Sure, the district would need to find another placement for Putrino–that’s tenure for you– but Francisco could continue being that “outstanding role model” for the Renaissance Middle School community. With a districtwide budget of $141 million, what’s an extra $127K?
Hi Laura, I read with interest your recent column about the non-tenured principal in Montclair who may lose her position because an arbitrator’s ruling returned a suspended tenured principal to his position. I understand the parent’s frustration that the district may possibly lose an excellent principal. Since the non-tenured principal has not yet earned tenure, she has no legal right to retain her position. Her sexual orientation should be irrelevant in this matter. The legal predicate on which this case is based is not just the operation of the tenure law but a more fundamental concept: the presumption of innocence. Having been acquitted of the charges against him by the arbitrator, whose decision, significantly, the court affirmed, the tenured principal not only has a right to return to his former position but also be made whole for any loss of salary, benefits and seniority he would have otherwise been entitled to during his suspension. The district simply did not prevail in its arguments before the arbitrator to dismiss the tenured principal. That is the way the system works. I do agree that the if the non-tenured principal is as effective as the parent claims she is, then the district should do its best to retain her.