(Editor's note: The following is a press release from the Lehighton Area Education Association)

The Lehighton Area Education Association met on March 10 to vote on a fact-finding report from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Bureau. The teachers' negotiating team noted that the fact-finders report was lower than anticipated but felt it was an acceptable proposal that met both sides in the middle. The LAEA members overwhelmingly voted to accept this proposal on salaries.

The following week, on March 17, the Lehighton Area School Board held a public meeting and very quickly voted against the fact-finders report unanimously without public discussion. Acceptance of this third party report could have ended the labor dispute that began on August 31, 2009.

The Lehighton Area Education Association has had representatives from PSEA, Pennsylvania State Education Association, evaluate the district's budget to determine the amount of money and percentage of increase included in the 2009-2010 district budget submitted to the Commonwealth. PSEA's findings concur with those established by the Labor Relations Bureau. The LAEA is not asking for the full amount budgeted for professional salaries but for their fair share.

The district's administrators recently received a 13.65 percent increase over last year's total amount used for just administrative salaries. This increase was given at the height of our country's economic hardship. It cannot speak any louder how the Lehighton School District disrespects it's staff, and blatantly misrepresents the facts to the public.

The school district budgeted 4 percent for salary increases in their balanced budget submitted to the Commonwealth last June. The school board also raised taxes to cover the 4 percent throughout the district. The fact-finder doesn't even recommend 4 percent in any year, and the teachers are not asking for any more than the third party observer deemed reasonable.

Do the taxpayers know and understand that we are paying our Superintendent, Mr. James Kraky", $128,000 plus daily gas mileage to and from work? That is an additional $2,000-$2,400 annually just to drive to work, making his total salary and benefits over $138,000.

Did you know that 67 percent of our administrators live outside of our school district and make decisions that affect our taxpayers, students, and community for years to come? Our superintendent felt it necessary to purchase new furniture, and most recently, a flat-screen television for his office. The Lehighton School District recently purchased all new furniture (tables and office chairs) for the school board to use at a cost of thousands of dollars.

The district is continually misleading the public. They're using smoke and mirror tactics to skirt an obligation that they should have to their staff; a staff who has provided quality education to the children in this community.

Most recently the district welcomed U.S. Senator Bob Casey, who announced at the Mahoning Elementary School, that the schools in Carbon County would receive an additional $18 million in funding. This elementary building is listed in the "Top 50 Schools in the Lehigh Valley." The Mahoning Elementary School finished in the top 91 percent in the state on their PSSA tests last year. In fact all of the schools in the Lehighton School District met AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and surpassed the state averages.

The test results are a direct result of the experience, expertise, and dedication the teachers in the LAEA have toward their students. Instead of praise from the Lehighton Area Administration, the public continually hears rhetoric like, "we will need to look at cutting teachers, para professionals, and programs to meet our budgetary needs." These statements have been made AFTER the district budgeted the 4 percent increase for salaries and received a portion of the $18 million grant from Senator Casey.

The LAEA contract has nothing to do with the para professionals in the Lehighton schools. Instead of being proud of our educational community and rewarding those teachers who have made the Lehighton School District what it is, they would rather slash and burn the very foundation of their existence.

The LAEA voted to help the district in applying for a "Race to the Top" grant. Lehighton is one of the few Pennsylvania districts, which carries the district and teacher's union signatures. The teachers agreed to sign the grant proposal because it increased the chances of receiving the grant money and felt that it would help the community with the rising cost of education. The Lehighton teaching staff continues to reach out to the community, helping others, and working with our students to prepare them for a successful future. The teachers continually attend in-service programs, community colleges, and traditional colleges and universities. They strive to improve their craft by attending conferences, workshops, and classes to enhance their ability to instruct, integrate technology, and motivate Lehighton area students.

Although Lehighton students surpassed the state averages and made AYP, the teacher's salaries fall far below the state average in teacher salaries. The average state teacher's salary was $54,971 with an average of 15.9 years experience during the 2006-07 school year. During that same time, teachers in Lehighton averaged just $49,757 with an average of 17 years experience.

The Lehighton teacher's union contract ended in August of 2009 and the support staff has been working without a contract since June of 2008. If this impasse is not quickly resolved the teacher's union is prepared for a job action that will affect the 2,434 students who attend schools in the district. Community members and parents who are interested in supporting education and providing excellence in the classrooms are encouraged to attend the next school board meeting in the district's administration building off of Union Street in Lehighton.