A budget proposal which calls for a 1.04 tax millage increase in the new school year – a lower increase that had been anticipated – was given approval last night by Lehighton Area School Board.

In addition, the board essentially okayed a new, three-year teachers' contract.

One portion of the pact not approved was the salaries for extracurricular activities. Negotiations regarding this will continue.

Members of the Lehighton Area Education Association must vote on the contract and ratify it before it becomes finalized.

Bruce Koch, president of the LEAA, feels the members will give their endorsement.

No date was set on the vote by the teachers, but Koch indicated it probably will occur within the next two weeks.

New budget

Michael Malay Jr., district business manager, presented a summary of the 2010-2011 budget.

The proposal passed by an 8-1 margin, with board member Duane Eidem casting the lone dissenting vote.

The budget is scheduled for formal approval at the May 24 meeting of the school board.

Malay said the budget is balanced at $34,397,265.

The increase of 1.04 mills represents a 2.28 percent tax increase.

Superintendent James Kraky said when the board had began working on the budget, it set for itself an Act 1 maximum of 1.775 mills, pointing out, "we stayed below that amount."

According to Malay, the budget includes a 70 percent increase in retirement costs and a 13 percent increase in health insurance costs.

There are several cost-cutting measures the board is taking to keep the tax increase to a minimum, said Malay. Among them are the elimination of two full-time positions. He explained that five teachers are retiring this year but restructuring is occurring so only four will be replaced. A 10-month business secretary who is retiring also won't be replaced.

Contract status

The board voted 6-3 to approve the collective bargaining agreement between the school district and the Lehighton Area Education Association.

The opposing votes were cast by Eidem, William J. Hill Jr., and Evelyn Semanoff.

The vote does not include cocurricular salary schedules.

Board President Dave Krause said, "It is the intent of the board to continue to negotiate cocurricular as previously envisioned and to make any changes retroactive to the date of this contract."

The general salary portion of the contract will be retroactive to Aug. 31 when the previous contract had expired.

Earlier this month, Koch said the new contract calls for a 3 1/2 percent salary increase the first year, 3 percent for the second year, and 3 percent for the third year, all increments as directed during fact-finding which occurred earlier this year.

Annette Boyle, co-chief negotiator for the LEAA, commented after the meeting, "We're happy with the outcome. We're happy with the vote" by the board.

In March, the board had rejected the contract proposal without discussion.

On April 7, the LEAA had scheduled a work stoppage, but it was called off the preceding night when negotiators from both sides felt they reached a pact that would be approved by both sides.

The district's service employees are still without a contract. This is the second year that the service personnel are working without an agreement.

There was no mention of the status of that contract at last night's meeting.