An outpouring of support for the Bethel Park football coach led to an overflow crowd at the school board’s May 17 committee meeting.
About 100 people attended in a show of solidarity with Jeff Metheny, who has not yet been retained as the head high school football coach following his 22nd season. The school board is expected to consider approving Metheny and other coaches at the regular meeting May 24.
Among those speaking on Metheny’s behalf was Pam Kwiatkoski, whose son Nick was coached by Metheny. He went on to a standout career as a West Virginia University linebacker, and the Chicago Bears selected him in the fourth round of this year’s National Football League draft.
“His high school coaches were his mentors. They were responsible for his development as a player and as a young man,” Kwiatkoski told the board.
Others described Metheny as a dedicated and tough coach who inspires his players to work hard at being better at football and at life.
“He taught me how to be a man, how to get up after you’ve fallen down,” Jake Dixon, a high school senior who played tight end for the Black Hawks, said.
Some of those in attendance questioned why it was taking the board so long to renew Metheny. The board typically approves football coaches in December or January, but the decision was delayed this year over a discrepancy in the coach’s stipend, according to school board director Pam Dobos.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, which is the district’s contract with its teachers’ union, the head coach is supposed to be paid $8,203, but the board approved a stipend of $9,207 last year. Compensation numbers were also slightly different for other coaches.
Director Barry Christenson said the board thought the stipend amount approved last year corresponded with the agreement, but when it was discovered the numbers did not match, board members needed time to examine why.
The compensation paid to coaches and sponsors of other extracurricular activities is a point of negotiation as administrators and the teachers’ union work on a new contract. The current pact expires June 30.
Leaders from several sports booster organizations, including football, have been asking the board to increase coaches’ salaries for several months. They claim Bethel Park coaches are paid too little compared with neighboring school districts. The district, however, is supposed to raise coaches’ salaries only as part of a new teachers’ contract.
“All of our coaches deserve to be compensated in a fair and equitable manner,” Joe Johns of the girls’ volleyball booster organization said.
Metheny also lobbied for his fellow coaches when he addressed the board. He thanked the football boosters for their support and described coaches of all sports as the best motivators and mentors of young people.
“We need to respect them and compensate them for all the work they do in the Bethel Park School District,” he said.
Negotiations with the teachers’ union come at a time of uncertainty concerning the availability of state funding. The state budget impasse last year held up subsidy payments to all school districts in Pennsylvania for several months, forcing some districts to take out loans to pay the bills. School officials fear a similar fight this year.
An alternative way to pay for any increases to the extracurricular budget could be to increase the activity fee. Students pay $50 a year to participate in athletics and other activities. Parents, though, said they would like to see an accounting for how that money is spent.