Although the preliminary budget passed by the Panther Valley School Board last night calls for a six-mill tax increase, directors urged residents not to panic.

"I'd like to stress that this is a preliminary budget," said budget and finance committee chair Anthony Pondish. "We are not even close. This will be significantly less," he added.

The proposed expenditures for the 2011-2012 school year total $23,452,718. However, Pondish explained, the district has not received the amount of the state allocation yet and still has several months to work on the final budget, which needs to be passed in June.

The district, however, must meet several deadlines in approving preliminary budgets or risk losing state money. Director Anthony DeMarco agreed.

"It's not set in stone," he said, "We just need to approve this to meet the deadlines."

Directors Mickey Angst and Irene Genther voted against the preliminary budget.

In another budgetary matter regarding professional salary, the board approved the renewal of Superintendent Rosemary Porembo's contract for three years, setting her salary at $106,600 for the 2011-2012 school year.

Also, maintenance supervisor George "Smokey" Krajnak provided an update to the board on the property at 401 Bertsch St.

"All of the chemicals are packed and stored," he said. "DEP put bids out for the transportation and disposal of the material. They accepted the bids last week. Hopefully they'll award the contract and hopefully have everything gone by the end of the month."

Krajnak said that after the chemicals are removed, the district will still need to deal with the removal of lead and asbestos from the property. They will also need to decide what to do with the remaining contents of the building. District solicitor Robert Yurchak also added that there was no public hearing held by DEP regarding the building because no one from the public requested one.

The board also discussed the delivery of confidential board packets to its members. Director David Hiles questioned why packets might be delivered to private citizens. Angst explained that there had been issues with the delivery to his home and in the past, he had made arrangements to have his packet delivered to former director Tom Shober's home.

Although Shober did not run for re-election to the board this term, that arrangement was still being followed. President Jeff Markovich said that all packets will be delivered directly to board member's homes or businesses or they can be picked up by the members at the administrative offices.

The board also approved the first reading and revision of the local board procedures and meetings policy. Policy chair DeMarco also said that the policy committee will be looking into incorporating guidelines for board members with regards to social networking and blog sites.

The board accepted the resignations of First Sergeant Steve Caddy, assistant JROTC instructor, effective July 1, 2011 and Mary Dillon, middle school instructional aide, effective immediately.

Theresa Altemose was hired as full-time permanent secretary at the elementary school, effective Jan. 14, at a rate of $12.60 per hour.

Megan Devlin and Jacqueline Murphy were added to the list of substitute teachers for the 2010-2011 school year at a per diem rate of $85.

A motion to approve Vickie Maynes as a substitute cafeteria worker did not pass. Holly Guedes was granted tenure and a professional contract with the district.

The board approved Portnoff Law Associates to collect delinquent real estate taxes for 2011. Angst urged the board not to approve Portnoff and to return to having the delinquent taxes collected by the county tax bureau. Angst said that Panther Valley is the only district in Carbon County to still use Portnoff. He also said that there have been staffing changes at the tax bureau and they are better at collecting taxes than in the past.

Director David Hiles said that the district cannot afford to wait or risk any delays in collecting the delinquent taxes. Business manager Kenneth Marx, Jr. agreed with Hiles, stating that he spoke with a representative from the Jim Thorpe Area School District who said that the amount of delinquent taxes collected had decreased when they dropped Portnoff.

"We can't afford to say that in two years, we'll start collecting more than we should," said Marx. "We'd need to find that cash flow somewhere. There are other ways to do it, but it wouldn't be beneficial."

Angst called Portnoff's rate schedule "shocking."

Hiles recommended that people pay their taxes on time and avoid dealing with Portnoff altogether.

Superintendent Porembo and the school principals advised the board that all three schools are preparing for the upcoming PSSA exams. Porembo also presented board members with certificates in honor of School Director Recognition Month and thanked them for their commitment to the students in the Panther Valley.

The board will hold only one regular meeting next month, on Feb. 10.