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Former Woodside Principal Files Lawsuit to Get Job Back

Dominick Rotante claims Franklin Lakes School District Superintendent Frank Romano pushed him out of his job because of a personal vendetta.

A Franklin Lakes principal who unexpectedly "resigned" last August is going on the offensive to get his job back.  

A lawsuit was filed with Bergen County Superior Court on Friday, Oct. 26, on behalf of former Woodside Avenue School Principal Dominick Rotante, who stepped down abruptly just weeks before the start of the school year in August.

In a statement released Sunday, Rotante said the end of his eight year career in Franklin Lakes was the result of a personal vendetta waged against him by Superintendent of Schools Frank Romano, who was hired by the school district in 2010.

“I achieved a record of excellence, one that I’m very proud of and one that was impeccable until the day Mr. Romano arrived with an agenda that included getting rid of me,” Rotante wrote.

Rotante believes Romano wanted sought to oust him because Rotante was a member of a previous hiring committee that had input into Romano’s failed attempt to become curriculum director years before he was offered the superintendent position the Franklin Lakes Board of Education.

“Mr. Romano did not inform the new board of his prior failed candidacy when he applied for the superintendent’s position but I did because I felt it was pertinent information. Clearly, the superintendent doesn’t see it that way,” Rotante wrote.

Rotante is seeking to void the separation agreements and obtain reinstatement with the Franklin Lakes School District.

Romano reached for comment Monday morning refused to answer any questions, but said, "The entirety of the November 4, 2012, press release is completely false."

The Franklin Lakes Board of Education granted Rotante, principal at Woodside since 2004, a request for a ten-month personal leave to "tend to family matters" and accepted his resignation, School Superintendent Frank Romano said in August.

Romano spoke highly of Rotante back in August, but refused to go into details regarding the principal's sudden resignation.

In his initial statement, Romano said that parents may be "frustrated over the information that they can’t have."

Rotante's Florham Park-based Attorney Rich Meisner confirmed on Monday that the suit had been filed with Bergen County Superior Court. 

A copy of the separation agreement between the Franklin Lakes Board of Education and Rotante, obtained by Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch confirmed that both parties had hired attorneys during the initial process, and that Rotante would foreit all tenure and seniority and never work for the Franklin Lakes School District again.

The separation agreement is attached to this story.

Meisner said that the premise on which the separation agreement was based proved to be false, but wouldn't provide further details.

At the heart of the controversy is a sealed grievance filed by the Franklin Lakes Education Association earlier this year. 

An OPRA request for the documentation regarding the grievance was denied, but Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch obtained a copy of a June 29 letter allegedly sent to Woodside Avenue teachers by FLEA President Donna Luciano.

The letter, which is attatched to this story, has had its letterhead removed by the providing party, citing fear of reprisal by school administration. 

In the letter details of the grievance are noted.

"FLEA filed a grievance against Dominick on Monday," the letter states. "Some of the complaints against him are not keeping appointments, yelling and intimidation of staff, and not adhering to the district's policies on observations and evaluations."

Previous attempts to contact Luciano have gone unanswered.

Stay with Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch for more on this breaking story.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Vicki Holst November 06, 2012 at 12:00 AM
I have no ill will for for Mr. Rotante at all; in fact, I was very pleased with how he worked with and engaged the children. He brought a lot of great ideas into WAS, and I think we could all tell how much he loved all of our children and desired for them to succeed in life. However, at the same time, I have a hard time believing that the FLEA (representatives of the teachers) AND the Franklin Lakes BOE (our elected officials) would have made a decision based on one superintendent's supposed personal vendetta, as has been suggested. No superintendent is in a position to pressure an entire board to make a decision regarding a tenured person's career based on one event: Clearly there is a lot more to the story that most of us are not privy to. A very vocal minority has been making the headlines, but I think there is a silent majority that is ready to share their side of the story and will have a lot of insightful things to say if the separation agreement is actually voided.
Deanna Podell November 06, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Principal Dominick Rotante was commended in a recent post by Mrs. Vickie Holst. I agree with her sentiments 100% regarding what, in fact, he had brought to our WAS community and our children.  In my opinion, the most important thing is through interactions with his staff and more importantly directly with the students, he taught the children a great deal of self-respect, self-identity, and promoted self-discipline. He was always encouraging our children to be proud to be themselves and proud to belong to the WAS community.  Our children truly felt they had a voice in the school community even though Mr. Rotante was fully in charge. Our children were encouraged to share their opinion and ultimately affected change in the lunch program, recess programs, kindergarten and safety patrols. It was a happy place for my children to go and learn. They looked forward to school each and every day.  Something that no test score can measure or identify, but in my opinion will serve them best in their future. ... Please continue to read my second post..... Deanna Podell
Deanna Podell November 06, 2012 at 06:12 PM
In the same post, however, I completely disagree with the comment that our superintendent, Dr. Frank Romano, is unable to pressure or intimidate our teachers and our current Board of Education.  At a recent meeting that both Mrs. Holst and I attended, our Superintendent told me publicaly and in front of our current president of  BOE,  Mrs. Kathy Schwartz,  that I " have lost a chance to voice my opinion" .    If you do not call this intimidation, then I do not know what intimidation is?  As our BOE president sat silent, I could not stop thinking about how our superintendent and our BOE consistently forgets that as parents with children in the Franklin Lakes school system, as tax-paying residents of this community who strongly and consistently show support for our school system, and simply, as citizens of the United States, we will never lose an opportunity to voice our opinion.  We may never know all the facts, but one fact we do know and was confirmed by our current BOE President, Mrs. Kathy Schwartz, is that The Board of Education never spoke to Mr. Rotante throughout the entire process. To this day no exit interview or communication has occurred.  We all have our children's best interest at heart but we have to stop the speculation. Stop the gossip. Deanna Podell
Vicki Holst November 06, 2012 at 06:34 PM
As in many instances, only half of the story is being presented. I was there when Deanna was told that she had had her chance to speak. That was a fact....the public forum we were at was NOT to debate whether or not we were keeping Mr. Rotante, it was to discuss openly what WAS stands for and represents and skills and traits we should look for in a new principal. In that vein, the time for anyone to voice their opinion on that matter was gone: The public had its chance at the August BOE meeting, and by the sounds of the podcast, many people did and not always with the most civility. Dr. Romano's comment at the Oct. 24th forum was not intimidation, but a simple stating of the facts. For Deanna to say she was intimidated by Dr. Romano for stating the fact would be like me saying I felt intimidated by her comment that she "didn't like" the people who were chosen to help select the next principal (since I am one of those people, along with 2 others that were in the room). We all have a right to our own opinions, but we also have to respect the process. As far as the Kathy Schwartz, while I cannot speak for her or the BOE, I can say that ANY board has access to a lot of information that doesn't only come from Dr. Romano. They have many private sessions and gather information from many sources....parents, teachers, and the public.
Carolyn Reitz November 06, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Any reasonably intelligent person should know that there is much more to running a school than interacting with children. Perhaps if Ms. Podell attended board meetings on a regular basis she would garner some knowledge of the processes that are in place to ensure that every aspect of a child's education is properly supervised by a building principal. If Mr. Rotante was so persecuted, why was he not at the very board meeting where parents voiced their concern...it is a PUBLIC meeting. Instead he RESIGNED! In addition, if she listened to the Sept 11th podcast of the BOE meeting she would hear a letter written to the BOE by 8 members of Dr. Romano's administrative team (including 4 principals) who recognized the leadership and professionalism of their Superintendent by saying "We, as an administrative team, are appreciative of and inspired by the professional challenges and growth his leadership has brought to our organization." Ms. Podell claims that we should stop the speculation and stop the gossip, but clearly she thinks she is exempt from that practice.
Roger Placer November 06, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Regardless of what happened beforehand, Rotante ultimately signed a legally binding separation agreement that includes a paid personal leave of absence for the duration of this school year, culminating with his resignation. In other words, he gets to *not* work for many months at full salary. Along with that, his reputation was preseved by virtue of the agreement's terms and the overall confidentiality that *should* have surrounded the matter. He's now gone and squandered that sweet deal. Not only that, but regardless of the quality of Rotante's tenure at WAS - and I had no major quibble - the school is now in the hands of another very capable administrator and is once again a stable, flourishing learning environment. So for Rotante to file a lawsuit *now* after signing that legal separation agreement, which will drain the district of resources (legal fees, lost time, and mental well-being), is a self-serving endeavor that belies his noble assertion that the "kids come first." Dominick: We appreciated your tenure at Woodside, and genuinely wish you well. But now, for everyone's sake including your own, please move along gracefully!
Janene Domingo November 07, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Ouch Deanna if I were you I would leave this one alone your getting steamrolled here!
Leo Petruzzella November 08, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Roger, since you feel it nessesary to put your two cents in, I would like to put in mine. I strongly disagree with you! You should not use words like "we" or "for everyone's sake" because I do not want you speeking for me. There is an expression in this country "Justice for ALL". If in fact, Mr. Rotante was wronged or forced to resign, he has the right to prove his case. I asked both my kids, separately, so one wouldn't influence the other. Do you want a new principle or would you like Mr. Rotante to come back? Without hesitation they answered "Mr. Rotante". You and I are not in the school all day, they are so that should say something about the kind of person he is. Lastly, most days for the past three years I picked my kids up from school. Mr. Rotante was always outside for dismissal, in the rain, snow, hot sun, making sure our kids safely got home. He would always greet me and any other parent he saw. Personally, I would like to have him back. His hard work and dedication is a big reason why Woodside is a great school. Leo Petruzzella
Rebecca November 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
“It’s all about the kids.” I hear this statement from various groups in town. The irony is that this lawsuit has nothing to do with the kids and everything to do with an individual who wants his job back and a group that is using this situation for political gain. Hiring media consultants, publicizing lawsuits in online forums/newspapers, involving parents in what should be a personal matter between and employee and an employer - this is not about the kids. It's a circus that is draining resources (time and money) and preventing our community from moving forward. Yes, we need to move on. Enjoying and wanting children to succeed is important for someone working in the education arena. You don't go into this field if you don't genuinely enjoy working with children. However, we don't hire people to run schools because they are "fun" and "like kids." Effectively running a school requires a variety of skills, traits and talents, and many of those skills having nothing to do with "fun." Some of the most important skills an effective administrator needs are unglamorous and mundane but essential to effectively running a school. “Fun” is nice, but doesn’t outweigh skill and professionalism.
Rebecca November 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
In a small town and a small school, it can be difficult to maintain professional boundaries. Teachers, administrators and parents form relationships over the years. However, when those professional/personal lines become blurred, we have a problem. A principal can be friendly with parents, but at the end of the day, you are the principal. Even the perception of favoritism is a problem. Every kid should be equally respected, valued and supported in our schools. Every parent should have equal access to a principal. Parents' "relationships" (for lack of a better word) with a teacher or administrator should have no impact on how a child is treated or supported in our schools. However, when personal/professional lines become blurred, it's difficult to remain truly impartial and objective. This was an issue in our school.
Rebecca November 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
We are about to embark on a search for a principal for Woodside Avenue School. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a member of the principal search committee at Woodside, and I’m proud and honored to take part in this process.) However, I’m unhappy that individuals are using, what should be, a personal matter between an employer and employee to manipulate our principal search and potentially our School Board. Parents, School Board, Mr. Rotante - respectfully, we need to move forward. Woodside needs to finish the school year with the stability that has been established by our acting principal. We need to focus on the challenges ahead. We need to prepare our teachers and students for the new Common Core Standards and PARCC assessments. We need to make sure our teachers have the proper tools and processes in place to continue the collaboration necessary for consistent, high-quality teaching in ALL of our schools. We need to focus on the teachers and the kids - NOT lawsuits, vendettas, in-fighting and finger-pointing and politics.
Rebecca November 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
To any potential applicant reading this post, I offer this to you. Franklin Lakes IS a town with wonderful parents who are willing to do a lot to support our schools. We are educated parents who understand and value education for our children. We have good teachers and good schools that are always striving to do better. We are involved and proudly raise funds to support our schools. We recognize the many challenges public education faces, and we need administrators and leaders who can help us navigate the waters of change effectively. We want applicants who can help us prepare for and stay ahead of the changes coming our way. We want world-class schools and know that we need the right administrators, infrastructure, processes and talent to make that happen. Yes, we need to move on and move forward.
Concerned about CD November 30, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Thank you Rebecca for writing the truth and what 95% of Woodside feels! Now all we have to worry about is the 5 members of the board who don't want a curriculum director anymore. The entire district will going to go to crap without a curriculum director. These "5" talk about how parents moved their children to private schools. Watch what happens when those "5" vote her out. ALOT of kids will leave to go to private schools. There was no consistency between the classrooms and schools and they complained about that! Now the curriculum director is finally fixing this and these "5" want her gone. They voiced their concerns loudly about the efficiency study. Well watch out "5" we will screaming about the curriculum director to stay!!!
It's over January 04, 2013 at 02:37 AM
Great. Our school system just went downhill with new president and the known voting block about to happen with this new board. Good luck to our school system. Disgusting!!!
Thomas Madison February 02, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Unfortunately there is not a comment section for the online villadome times. So I'm expressing my comments here where I know enough people will read it. FYI Mr. Meisner, only a handful of parents want Rotante back at Woodside. The intelligent majority are extremely happy without him!! Except for the ghost writer above and her few friends, we all moved on and realize how a school should be managed! For the comment about the election... Only one NEW BOE member would vote him back. The other two intelligent college educated NEW board members could careless about him! Move on!
John Henry February 05, 2013 at 04:09 PM
hi
John Henry February 05, 2013 at 04:12 PM
Thomas- Here's an idea; instead of wasting time sitting in front of a computer writing these redundant, mindless and uniformed comments, why don't you and your band of fools throw on some sneakers and go to the gym? God knows, it will be time much better spent!
Rebecca February 05, 2013 at 04:31 PM
Ladies and Gentlemen - This is middle school banter and not intelligent discussion or debate. The thought that anyone would want to engage in this type of dialogue in a public forum is truly sad. If you want to discuss issues - do it. If you have a point to make, make it. If you simply want to fling insults, then maybe you should take pause before you type and hit submit. We do have plenty of intelligent individuals who have a variety of viewpoints in our town. Go ahead and put them out there. If you don't have something substantive to contribute, then kindly step aside. There's no room or need for the juvenile behavior. It does nothing to elevate the conversations we should be having.
Mary Lamb March 05, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Yikes! Do you think you'll attract any decent candidates with this public airing of laundry. Glad I didn't apply. Who would give up tenure for this nonsense?
Jack Frost March 06, 2013 at 10:06 PM
Hey Mary, your friend Jack here! Did you have your little lamb yet? I too am glad you didn't apply! School would be horrible with you too! The only only one dishing out dirty laundry was Franklin Lakes Facts. Remember those morons. I look at those band of fools and laugh! I guess I'm laughing at you!
John Henry March 26, 2013 at 03:45 PM
I'm coming clean and apologizing to everyone on this thread. My above comment from February 5th accused people of sitting in front of the computer and writing redundant, mindless and uninformed comments. Meanwhile I do exactly the same thing. I actually did it yesterday. I called people band of fools. Meanwhile, I associate myself with the biggest fools around. I am a fool! I hope you all can forgive me. I'm sorry! Sincerely, John Henry
Shor Drtbag May 04, 2013 at 07:09 PM
I'm sure this fat D-bag is like a pig on Sh/t right now.

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