By a five-to-two vote, Lehighton Area School Board approved the final budget for the 2013-2014 school year on Monday evening with no real estate tax increase.
"With everyone working together, we're able to tighten our belts and be more efficient without having to raise taxes," said school board President Rocky Ahner. "It wouldn't be fair to the taxpayers to raise taxes right now just because we can."
Until recently, taxpayers in Lehighton Area School District were facing a 1.86-percent increase correlating to a .88 mills increase for taxpayers. According to Lehighton Area School District business administrator J. Michael Malay Jr., the increase to a taxpayer with a $50,000 taxable assessment would have been $44.
Board members voting in favor of next year's budget with no tax increase were Ahner, William Hill Jr., Hal Resh, Wayne Wentz and Thomas Zimmerman. John Finnegan and Dave Krause voted against it. Larry Stern and Andrew Yenser were absent from the meeting.
"When we raise taxes, it should be for a reason. Right now, I don't think there's a reason," concluded Ahner.
In a related matter, the school board also approved the 2013-2014 Homestead and Farmstead Exclusions. Property taxes are based on the assessed value of real estate. Homestead and Farmstead Exclusions reduce the assessed value of a property. That means that the taxpayer owes less tax.
A homestead property is a dwelling primarily used by an owner as his or her permanent home. Homestead properties do not include rental units, vacation homes, camps, or other homes in which the owner does not live on a permanent basis.
Similarly, the farmstead exclusion is a method of targeting real property tax relief to farmers. It allows tax relief to farmers on the taxes they pay on farm buildings other than the farmhouse, which receives tax breaks through the homestead exclusion so long as at least one farm owner lives on that farm.
In other business, the school board ratified the automatic one-year extension of Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver for a fourth year, as set forth in his contract. Cleaver is currently wrapping up his first year as LASD superintendent.
The school board also approved extracurricular adviser hires, which include Tim Sharrow for middle school fall intramurals; Terry Haberman and Rachel Quinn for middle school spring intramurals; Bryan Buffington for high school jazz band; Matt Fisher for Red Cross; and Dorothy Hartney for senior class adviser.
Athletic hires for the 2013-2014 school year include Sarah Devitt and Heather Fiorentino as assistant cheerleading coaches; Charlie Bachert, John Lopata, Janice Scherer, Ron Rabenold, Rachel Quinn and Courtney Schleicher as fall game managers; and Daniel Rossino as volunteer boys' basketball coach.
Resignations were accepted from Krysti Klotz as assistant field hockey coach and Melanie Quigley as Franklin Elementary School lunch aide.
In addition, the school board accepted the intent to retire from support employee Larry D. Smith effective Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Smith has been a LASD employee since 1988.
A letter of agreement was approved for CMS Medical Care Corporation, a subsidiary of Blue Mountain Health System, to provide state-mandated dental examination services for LASD in the "Healthy Smiles, Happy Kids" dental van.
The school board also approved a letter of agreement for Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission, Inc. to provide Drug and Alcohol Student Assistance Program (SAP) and intervention services for LASD for the 2013-2014 school year.
Houser Auctioneers was contracted to conduct an auction of all surplus LASD personal property on Thursday, Aug. 15 at the LASD administration building.
In other business, the school board approved a resolution authorizing LASD to join other schools and school districts as a member of Public School Health Insurance Cooperative (PSHIC).
The school board also approved an affiliation agreement between LASD and Bloomsburg University for the purpose of providing experiential learning for education students for the 2013-2014 school year.
The next regular meeting of the school board is scheduled for Monday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at the administration building, Conference Room A. The public is encouraged to attend.