By a unanimous vote, Lehighton Area School Board approved the contract between the school district and Lehighton Area Educational Support Personnel Association on Tuesday evening.

"This contract incorporated a rational wage increase with the removal of unclear language," said school board President Rocky Ahner. "For example, one grievance could cost the district approximately $5,000."

The contract period covers July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2016. Terms of the new contract have not been disclosed.

"Both sides were aware of the importance of each other, the impact on the local economy, and the thoughtfulness of streamlining negotiations for future staff and board members," said Ahner.

With that contract now a done deal, negotiations continue between the school district and Lehighton Area Education Association. The teachers have been working with a contract that expired Aug. 31.

On Nov. 27, the 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, there are five issues in dispute salary; health care; extra duty/cocurricular compensation; retirement benefits; and term of agreement.

While the school board voted unanimously to accept Krchnar's recommended settlement, the membership of LAEA recently voted to reject it.

Addressing the school board on Tuesday evening, LAEA Past President Bruce Koch said, "We are negotiating in a very hostile environment. We are spoken to in an unprofessional and demeaning manner too often with foul and inappropriate language.

"We are not allowed to speak our case as when we attempt to explain our rationale, we are cut off, hollered and screamed at," he continued.

In his remarks to the school board, LAEA President-Elect Matt Fisher emphasized the importance of teachers as people who shape the future through our children.

Teachers treat each student as a person not as a number," said Fisher. "The (school district) business department should begin thinking of teachers and students not as numbers, not as expenditures but as assets."

"We don't teach subjects business, math, history," summed up Fisher. "We teach children."

Chief negotiator for LASD is Paul Blunt, esquire, from the Law Office of King, Spry, Herman, Freund, & Faul, LLC of Bethlehem, PA. Negotiating for the teachers is Pennsylvania State Education Association UniServ Representative Charlie Shaffer. He represents PSEA members in Carbon and Schuylkill counties.

"The board is disappointed that the teachers' union has chosen to impugn the professional reputation of a respected state official, rather than accept his recommended compromise a compromise that clearly favors them," said Blunt. "Clearly, the representatives of the teachers' union intend to continue their campaign of misinformation that has made settlement impossible.

"Such behavior only serves to embarrass the district and its many fine teachers and makes settlement impossible," he continued. "Accordingly, the board respectfully asks that it stop."

Blunt is scheduled to conduct a special information session to discuss the fact-finder's report on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at Lehighton Area High School. The public is encouraged to attend.