A teachers' strike in Lehighton Area School District, threatened for today, was called off last night following an executive session of the school board, which both sides say made strides toward coming up with a new contract.
David Perkins, spokesman for the Lehighton Area Education Association, which represents the teachers, said it appears likely the school board will be able to ratify the contract at a meeting on April 19.
Wayne Wentz, a member of Lehighton Area School Board, agreed that it appears likely the new pact will be accepted.
Yesterday, the LAEA gave notice that there could be a strike today.
The Web site of the school district this morning announced that the strike was off, stating:
"The School District and the Teachers have reached a labor agreement. There will NOT be a strike on April 7, 2010. Classes and activities will go on as scheduled."
Technically, the new contract isn't official until both the school board and teachers ratify it. The teachers' union did not attend last night's meeting, but was informed by telephone that the board was ready to move on the latest contract offer.
Wentz said at the two-hour executive meeting, all but two of the board members were present. Those two members remained on speaker phone.
Perkins said it appears all but one stumbling block on the contract has been remedied. That lone item is expected to be resolved by the time the board meets.
He said it involves salaries for extracurricular activities.
He cautioned that if the contract isn't approved, the threat of work stoppage remains. A strike requires a 48 hour notice by the teachers.
The teachers have been without a contract since the beginning of the school year.
Fact-finding earlier proved unsuccessful, but it might turn out to be the way the impasse is resoved. The LAEA had agreed to the fact-finding report, but on March 17 the school board unanimously rejected it without discussion.
Before that, the LAEA voted 147-12 to reject an offer by the school board and requested the fact-finding.
Perkins stressed that the contract is not settled officially, but indicated he is optimistic following last night's session.
Bruce Koch, president of the LAEA and a teacher in the district for 16 years, said the new contract, if approved, will be for three years.
He said the proposal calls for a 3 1/2 percent salary increase the first year, 3 percent the second year, and 3 percent the third year.
"We gave the new salary schedule to the board based on the criteria they were looking for," he said, adding that he was informed the board now appears willing to give its tentative approval on April 19 by a 6-3 vote.
He explained that the union is complying with the results of the fact-finding.
He said the reason the board initially rejected the fact-finding was because using the matrix that the board provided, the fact-finder calculated information incorrectly.
"The bottom line is that the district came to us and asked us to use the correct matrix," he said. "We used the correct matrix, the one we used all along."
"We hope we can package this for tentative approval by the board on April 19," said Koch. He said there are three things involved in the packaging of the new contract. They are language, which the board previously approved; salaries, which appear acceptable, and extra-curricular and coaching salaries, which are being worked on.
"This is much less than what we were looking for," admitted Koch, "but we asked for input from the fact-finder so we're accepting his recommendation."
The district is also negotiating with service employees. This is the second year the service employees are working without a contract.
Superintendent of Schools James Kraky did not return a call for comment this morning.