During a special meeting this week, the Lehighton Area School Board approved a contract between the school district and Lehighton Area Education Association.

The teachers had been working with a contract that expired August 31, 2012.

"The teachers' association team of Annette Boyle, Jim Blakeslee, Matt Fisher, and Bruce Koch - as well as School Board Member William 'Bill' Hill and Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver - should be commended for their cooperative efforts," said School Board President Rocky Ahner. "They combined the education of our students, the value of the teachers, and the consideration of the tax payers in these negotiations."

The agreement is a four-year deal - covering the time period of September 1, 2012 through August 31, 2016.

According to Ahner, "This contract is a win for the entire community - from defining instructional time that will enhance the education of the students to the increase of employee contribution to offset the ongoing healthcare costs."

Some major issues were settled early in the course of the negotiations. These included the grievance process; work day - the number of instructional periods at the secondary level, prep time, and right to leave the building for personal business; and tuition reimbursement. However, other matters remained unresolved.

On November 27, Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board appointed Michael Krchnar to serve as the fact-finder in the impasse between Lehighton Area School District and LAEA.

According to his report released January 18, there were five issues in dispute at that time: - salary; healthcare; extra duty / co-curricular compensation; retirement benefits; and term of agreement.

Krchnar concluded in his fact-finder's report that the school district is neither wealthy nor poor. LASD seems to fall somewhere in the middle when compared to other districts in Carbon County.

Chief negotiator for LASD was Paul Blunt, Esquire, from the Law Office of King, Spry, Herman, Freund, & Faul, LLC of Bethlehem, PA.

Negotiating for the teachers was Pennsylvania State Education Association UniServ Representative Charlie Shaffer. He represents PSEA members in Carbon and Schuylkill Counties.

"The contract was ultimately settled by some old-fashioned 'horse trading,'" said Blunt. "In exchange for a modest salary concession by the district, the teachers agreed to concessions on healthcare, a retirement benefit, and salary schedule."

Ahner added, "The contract basically went off the fact-finder's report," - with a few minor alterations.

According to LAEA Past President Bruce Koch, a tentative agreement was reached the week of March 25. During the week of April 1, the teachers voted to ratify the contract. The school board officially approved the contract this week.

Throughout the negotiation process, both sides remained optimistic that the matter would be resolved amicably.

"Both sides continuously sat down to discuss resolving the remaining issues," said LAEA President-Elect Matt Fisher. "Also, many LAEA members worked very hard together in order to get to a tentative agreement."

"I would like to thank the entire professional negotiating team for their time and effort throughout this process," said LASD Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver. "I would also like to take the time to thank Rocky Ahner and Bill Hill for their commitment to settling this contract from the school board end. They spent countless hours and worked to reach a settlement with the students and taxpayers both in mind."

Blunt added, "The district appreciates and thanks the teachers for their willingness to settle the contract on reasonable terms."

"It's good to see an effort such as this that had consideration for all stakeholders," concluded Ahner.

The next regular meeting of Lehighton Area School Board is scheduled for Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m. at LASD Administration Building, Conference Room A. The public is encouraged to attend.

For more information about LASD, visit www.Lehighton.org or call 610-377-4490.