LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Brian Wilkinson has converted Pinelands Regional High School’s football program from a team that hadn’t won a game in three years in 2013 into an increasingly competitive team with four wins this year.
About 15 of his players, plus parents and other supporters, attended a Board of Education meeting last week to try to convince the board to save his teaching job and those of three assistant coaches. One carried a chart showing how the team’s win record has risen to 4-6 since Wilkinson arrived.
“He would do anything for us, so we wanted to do the same for him,” student David Kohler, 17, said by phone Friday. “He has improved the football team drastically. It will be hard to get a program together for next year without all of them.”
Wilkinson confirmed Friday he and three teachers who are assistant coaches have received notices their contracts as teachers would not be renewed.
Wilkinson teaches history but is not tenured in the district. He left a tenured position in Toms River to come to Pinelands in 2013.
He said he was told the reason for his nonrenewal was budgetary. He has asked for a board hearing, which is scheduled for May 1.
He said the proposed 2017-18 budget is not at the state property-tax cap, so there is room to save jobs.
School board President Susan Ernst has said the board is not firing coaches but is reviewing staff positions in subject areas with the lowest staff-to-student ratio.
The student population has decreased by almost 300 since Hurricane Sandy, she said, and until now, the district had tried not to cut staff but instead not replace people who resigned or retired.
“Unfortunately, we are now at a point where that is not enough,” she wrote in a statement.
Union contracts give tenured teachers seniority and make the last hired most vulnerable.
Coaching is an extracurricular position. Wilkinson said he was told he could still reapply for the coaching position, which pays about $8,500 per year and has no benefits.
But, he said, he is applying for other teaching jobs. It likely would be impossible that he could coach at Pinelands while teaching in another district.
“It’s just word games,” he said of the board president’s comments. “With four of us gone, there will not be one single coach from the varsity staff left.”
Kohler, a junior, said students have been more motivated under Wilkinson.
“The mood is different now,” he said. “I’ve been playing since I was a freshman. I’m going into my senior year, and I don’t want to lose him.”