Lehighton Area School District board members approved a "final and best" offer to members of the support staff during last night's board meeting, in hopes that one district contract will be finalized in the near future. The support staff has been working for more than a year without a contract.

This final offer must be reviewed by the support staff's negotiating team and turned over to members for a vote before action can be taken.

School board president David Krause noted that negotiations have been amicable and moving in a positive direction since they first began.

The teacher's contract, which expired on Aug. 31 of this year, is also being negotiated at this time.

The contract is currently in "fact finding" after teachers refused the board's latest offer.

Krause expressed his disappointment that the teacher contract has not yet been resolved. Negotiations have been ongoing since early this year.

Krause noted that the board's latest offer to teachers was rejected by the negotiating committee without allowing teachers to vote on the contract.

"Speaking for myself as a member of this board, and not for the board as a whole, I have to say that I am extremely disappointed. We thought this was a fine offer, all things considered," said Krause.

He noted that the current proposal included salary increases in the 2.5 to 2.7 percent range and no increases in health care contributions, at a time when many businesses are passing on the rising cost of health care to employees. Salary remains a point of disagreement between the union and board.

"Given the fact that our seniors will see no increase in their Social Security checks, unemployment is over 10 percent and those who have jobs have seen their salaries cut or frozen, all while we are trying to hold the line on tax increases, I think the board's offer was very fair," he said.

Teachers continue to work but have agreed to work only contractual hours until a new contract is finalized. In the event of a strike, the faculty must give 48 hours notice before any work stoppage can occur.

Superintendent James Kraky has previously noted that the district has a plan in place if a strike were to be called.