Before an overflowing crowd, Lehighton Area School Board approved a final budget for the 2011-2012 school year, which includes salary freezes and puts a hold on the proposed middle school building project.

The meeting attracted such a large crowd in the administration building that newly-appointed Fire Chief Gary Frable voiced building capacity concerns. At that point, school board President David Krause adjourned the meeting and reconvened it about 15 minutes later in the high school auditorium.

"I'm glad to see more involvement by our community," Krause commented on the change in venue.

The proposed budget that was approved by the school board involves a 0.88 mill or 1.89 percent increase in real estate taxes. This equals an increase of approximately $39.07 on the district's median taxable assessed value of $44,400. The total budget of $34,391,813 represents a 1.18 percent increase from the 2010-2011 school year budget. State revenue has decreased by 4.17 percent and federal revenue has decreased by 44.92 percent.

According to Krause, 110 school districts in Pennsylvania or 22 percent have frozen salaries in order to address budgetary concerns. In Lehighton Area School District, Superintendent James Kraky and business administrator J. Michael Malay, Jr. have agreed to freeze their salaries for the 2011-2012 school year. They will each receive a salary raise in accordance with their respective contracts for the 2012-2013 school year as well as a one-year contract extension.

Solicitor William G. Schwab has also agreed to a freeze his hourly rate contingent upon all other employees of the school district also agreeing to a one-year salary freeze for the 2011-2012 budget.

In addition, Act 93 employees and other nonbargaining unit employees have agreed to a salary freeze for the 2011-2012 school year – again, contingent upon the acceptance of the Lehighton Area Education Association and the Support Personnel Association doing the same. Each member would receive a salary raise in accordance with the respective collective bargaining agreements for the 2012-2013 school year as well as a one-year contract extension.

In another cost-cutting measure, the school board voted to abolish the Driver Education Program and contract with Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21 for driver education at a cost not to exceed $2,500 per year.

Under the courtesy to the floor portion of the meeting, the school board was asked if LASD is still pursuing the proposed middle school building project – especially in light of pay freezes.

"It is on hold for right now," said Kraky.

In other business, Principal Gretchen Laviolette introduced her East Penn Elementary School team that took first place in the recent Envirothon Competition at Carbon County Environmental Education Center.

Kraky reported that he was recently contacted by Susan Anthony, Shoemaker-Haydt Unit 314 Legion Auxiliary essay chairman. She reported that for the first time, the district has two state winners. Laura Cressley and Taylor Walck now move on to the national competition.

LAHS music teacher David Perkins introduced students who have represented Lehighton in district, regional, state, and national music competitions and then thanked the administration and school board for supporting the arts.

The students echoed his sentiments, urging the school board to continue to support and fund the arts throughout district.

On a more somber note, Susan Salerno requested the school board to invest in drug testing.

"Take an active stand on the drug problem that exists within Lehighton Area School District,"she stated.

Salerno claims that teachers and coaches are aware of what is going on and do nothing about it. She suggested having drug testing for everyone throughout the school district – school board members, administration, staff, teachers, and students.

Kraky thanked Salerno for her concern.

"We are pursuing every means possible," the superintendent said.

"We've all been to enough funerals this year," LAHS Principal Timothy Tkach added.

He listed various ways in which LAHS has played a proactive role in addressing drug use – reminding students to make responsible decisions. More programs are being scheduled. Tkach also reported that LASD is looking to partner with neighboring school districts to address drug use.

In other business, school board member Andrew Yenser was nominated school board treasurer for a one-year term, effective July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012.

The next meeting of Lehighton Area School Board is scheduled for Monday, June 20 at 7 p.m.

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