Students return back to Pinelands Regional High School

Students return to Pinelands Regional High School in 2018.

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A longtime school board member resigned last week amid changes in the Pinelands Regional administrative team and the pursuit of more shared services by its superintendent.

Jeff Bonicky was in the midst of his fifth term on the regional Board of Education when he resigned at the end of the board’s monthly meeting May 15.

“I hope this board can make future decisions based on the students’ best interests, continue to celebrate our staff, our teachers, provide the resources for them to be successful, but also while being cognizant of us taxpayers,” Bonicky said during the meeting, handing in his resignation letter to board President Susan Ernst.

Reached by phone this week, Bonicky said the recent hiring of Troy Henderson as the principal of Pinelands Regional High School after the resignation of Shaun Banin was the culmination of a series of actions taken by the board that he has disagreed with going back to Superintendent Robert Blake’s resignation in 2016.

“I have nothing against the man taking the job. I have an issue with the process,” he said. “I just didn’t want to put my stamp of approval on it any longer.”

At its May meeting, the board approved the hiring of Henderson, the current principal at Frog Pond Elementary School, to fill the seat vacated by Banin, whose resignation was approved by the board April 30.

Frog Pond is part of the Little Egg Harbor School District, which is a sending district to Pinelands Regional. After Blake’s resignation and two years of interim superintendents, the Pinelands board hired Little Egg Harbor Superintendent Melissa McCooley as a shared superintendent for the regional district for this school year.

McCooley has brought on Little Egg Harbor Business Administrator Nick Brown and, most recently, its special education director, Erin Lichtenwalner, as shared positions.

Other shared services include the assistant business administrator, child study team, food service and information technology.

State records show Banin, who was hired three years ago as principal of Pinelands Regional High School, earned a salary of $131,668. Henderson’s salary at Frog Pond was $120,132 this year, state pension records show. He will receive a base salary of $139,500 in his new role at Pinelands.

Bonicky voted against Henderson’s hiring.

McCooley said she was surprised by Bonicky’s resignation “because he’s always been an easy board member to work with.”

McCooley said Henderson’s hiring came after a committee of administrators, teachers and one student interviewed four candidates. She said that next year, when the high school reopens after being closed this year for renovations, the building will serve ninth through 12th grades. Previously the junior high served seventh, eight and ninth graders and the high school served 10th through 12th grades. She said one of the assistant principals from the junior high school will share time between both schools next year.

Ernst declined to comment on Bonicky’s resignation but thanked him for his service. She said she has faith in the committee that decided on Henderson to fill Banin’s position.

“I can only say honestly that he went through a rigorous interview along with other candidates. He was the one that was chosen by the committee,” Ernst said.

Ernst said people may disagree with decisions made by McCooley because change is hard for people to accept.

“Changes needed to be made, and I trust Dr. McCooley. She was hired to move this district forward, and I think that’s what she intends to do,” Ernst said.

In other board business, McCooley said during her report May 15 that the district has been closing bathrooms due to vandalizing and vaping. McCooley asked for parent volunteers willing to come in and oversee the bathrooms so they do not need to be locked between classes.

McCooley has also started a parent advisory group that will serve as a liaison between the administration and the parents. Their first official meeting will be Wednesday.

The district approved a $37.8 million budget that includes a tax levy of $22.6 million. McCooley said the district went to a 2% increase in the levy, plus $300,000 of banked cap increases to offset some of the deficit in this year’s budget. She said state funding cuts played a large role in the deficiency.

At its April 30 meeting, the board approved a reduction in force of several positions, including the district’s media specialist and an industrial arts teacher. Positions for speech teacher and visual broadcast teacher were reduced to part time.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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