Putrino paid over $400k by Montclair school district while on administrative leave
(COURTESY MAKERBOT VIA YOUTUBE)
Joseph Putrino, the former Renaissance at Rand Middle School principal, has received more than $400,000 from the Montclair school district while on administrative leave.
Tenure charges had been filed by the district against Putrino, who was placed on paid leave Sept. 2, 2020, after he showed a video to staff that some found offensive.
But an arbitrator and a Superior Court judge have since ruled that Putrino be reinstated at Renaissance, and his lawyers and the district's are working on a reinstatement timeline, Putrino said in March.
The decisions also ordered the district to provide retroactive pay to Putrino for a 120-day, no-pay suspension period after the tenure charges were filed in September 2021.
Putrino received $391,070 in earnings and $12,500 in health waiver funds between Sept. 15, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2023, according to payroll documents acquired by Montclair Local.
On Tuesday, Putrino declined to comment on his pay or the reinstatement timeline. Robert M. Schwartz, one of his lawyers, has not responded to messages sent since April 13 asking for an update on Putrino’s reinstatement.
The district is unable to comment on personnel matters, David Cantor, the district's executive director of communications and community engagement, said April 13.
“However, public employers are required by law to maintain salary and health benefits during tenure proceedings,” Cantor said.
An Oct. 18, 2022, decision by arbitrator Joseph Licata ordered that Putrino be “immediately” reinstated as Renaissance principal. While the district “sufficiently demonstrated” that Putrino “unwittingly showed an inappropriate video that offended a portion of the staff and some members of the public,” his dismissal from the district is “not consistent with just cause,” the arbitration decision says.
On Feb. 22, Superior Court Judge Jodi Lee Alper in Newark confirmed the arbitration decision after the school district requested that it be modified. The district, among other things, was contesting the assignment of Putrino back to Renaissance.
Putrino is also suing the school district for filing the tenure charges, which he argues were “politically motivated and unwarranted” and made in retaliation for his objections to the district’s plan for in-person instruction at the start of the 2020-21 school year. The case is in discovery.
Students and parents have rallied in support of the current Renaissance principal, Maria Francisco, speaking at school board meetings and protesting outside the school building. Francisco has been principal at Renaissance since summer 2021.
In November, students and parents backed Francisco at a Montclair Board of Education meeting, pleading for her to continue in her position at the school. After more than 20 students and parents spoke to support her, and the board met for an hour and a half in executive session, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds backed Francisco.
“We're going to do everything legally possible to keep Ms. Francisco as the school principal at the Renaissance School,” he said.
On March 15, a group of about 20 parents assembled in front of Renaissance before dismissal, holding up signs and speaking of their admiration for Francisco and the community she has built.
To have a gay, female, immigrant principal, the first in her family to graduate from middle school, is special and builds a certain sense of community at the school, protest organizer and parent Leslie Rubisch said at the gathering. Francisco is Portuguese.
“You kind of understand why the kids go to her and feel safe,” she said. “What better representation for middle schoolers to have?”
In a March 15 message to Montclair Local, Francisco said she was “often humbled by the overwhelming support I receive from our parents, students and staff.”
“It is my hope that we can go on with our school year without students being impacted negatively,” she said. “Student well-being must be the focus of the work we do and will absolutely be my top priority.”
Shortly after he was placed on leave, Putrino got backing from the Renaissance community. A letter signed by more than 85 parents voiced support for Renaissance teachers and staff, Putrino and his family, and all those who were offended or concerned by the video.
“Our school lost its leader and advocate at a time when his familiarity with RMS history and culture would have helped families navigate through the difficult circumstances of the pandemic,” the letter read in part. It also called for open dialogue.