Kris Olson//September 2, 2020
An arbitrator’s decision that the Boston School Committee lacked good cause to terminate a principal’s employment should be upheld, a Superior Court judge has decided.
Jennifer Cramer had been the principal of the Joyce Kilmer K-8 School from 2012 through February 2018. Her contract, which ran through June 2019, gave the superintendent the right to dismiss the principal for good cause.
After two years of receiving “needs improvement” ratings in her mid-year evaluations, Cramer went on medical leave from May 12, 2017, through the end of the year.
In June 2017, while she was on leave, Cramer went to the Kilmer School and removed some furniture, which prompted Academic Superintendent Mary Driscoll to review school bank records. Driscoll determined that the furniture had been purchased with school funds and also found multiple concerning charges to the Student Activity Account.
Cramer also had not completed the school’s required Title I reporting, and when others attempted to complete the required checklist, it was determined that the school budget did not reflect compliance with Title I and META fund requirements that expenditures supplement and not supplant local resources, and that services benefit solely English Language Learner students.
After Cramer was terminated on Feb. 23, 2018, she accepted a position at Tufts University in June but accepted no compensation for her work there. She then obtained full-time employment as a school principal in Somerville for fall 2018.
Cramer filed for arbitration to challenge her termination on March 15, 2018. The arbitrator found that there had been innocent explanations for the removal of the furniture: It had been purchased with the help of a donation from a colleague’s husband to convert the room into an informal conference room. After it was decided the room would be turned back into a classroom, Cramer tried to find someone who could store the furniture for the summer, but when she was unsuccessful, she decided to store it in her garage.
The arbitrator ultimately decided that the first two charges against Cramer, for allegedly mishandling the Student Activity Account and Title I META funds, were meritless. The third charge, related to Cramer’s leadership ability, “bears some consideration,” the arbitrator found. But he decided that being out on medical leave in spring 2017 made it impossible for Cramer to fulfill some of her duties.
The arbitrator ultimately decided that the School Committee lacked good cause to terminate Cramer, and Judge Susan E. Sullivan found that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in reaching that conclusion.
But Sullivan agreed with the School Committee that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by ordering that Cramer be reinstated beyond the expiration of her contract, and she also agreed that the matter needed to be remanded to the arbitrator for a determination of how much back pay Cramer is owed.
“It is a shame that BPS unfairly fired a loyal and talented principal, seeking to ruin her career,” said Cramer’s attorney, Matthew J. Fogelman of Newton.
The 11-page decision is School Committee of the City of Boston v. Cramer, Lawyers Weekly No. 12-042-20.