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LASD continues library funding discussion

Lehighton Area School District’s contribution to the Lehighton Area Memorial Library continues to be a topic of debate as the district heads toward final budget adoption next month.

Last year, the district gave $20,000 to the library, but the contribution was not a part of the 2021-22 budget during a presentation to the finance committee late last month.

Business Manager Edward Rarick made it clear Monday night that no board member asked him to take the contribution out of the budget. Instead, Rarick said, he wanted to take the opportunity to ask some questions, such as how the contribution amount is determined.

“I wanted to find out if it was an arbitrary number or is it somehow connected to the financial performance of the district,” Rarick said.

Research showed that in the early 1990s, the district gave $7,300 to the library for several consecutive years. At one point, the payment ballooned to $37,000 before coming back down to $20,000.

“I think financially the district is headed in a great direction, we just need to be able to explain why we are doing things and how we are doing them,” Rarick said.

Between the school district and the six municipalities that make it up, he added, $26,250 is given to the local library annually. LASD’s contribution makes up 76% of that figure.

Ultimately, Lehighton’s school board will decide how much of a contribution, if any at all, it will give the library in 2021-22.

Finance committee member Rita Spinelli said she believes the library should get money, but procedures need to be put in place for consistency.

“I don’t want the library to have to beg for the money,” she said. “It has to be something legal and binding. Either they go for a library tax or we seek some sort of foundation. Just arbitrarily giving different amounts at the whim of a board is not the best way to fund something as important as a library.”

Nathan Foeller, who also sits on the finance committee, said he has no issue with the continued funding of the library.

“My own education was served greatly by my local library,” he said. “It is a very, very small part of our budget. Dollar for dollar, I think it’s money well-spent, but I am open to exploring the timing of a payment.”

In recent years, the contribution has been released when the school board’s representative on the library board requested it. Rarick suggested possibly splitting it up into two payments at times of the year when more revenue is coming into the district.

LASD Director David Bradley recently set up a table near the library with a sign showing a circle and a slash through the names of five Lehighton board members.

Library Director Melissa Hawk said Monday the contribution shouldn’t be a political issue.

“We never intended for that,” Hawk said. “The library does not endorse, support, or oppose any political candidate, group, or party. We serve the entire community.”

June, Hawk said, will hopefully bring a “masked, but more normal level of service” to the library. In the future, she hopes to get more involved with the school district in promoting what the community library has to offer.

“We’d love to come in and meet with the teachers because I think there are a lot of resources they may not even know we offer,” Hawk said. “I am hopeful funding will be included in the school district’s budget. We will also continue to seek numerous funding sources while adapting our services to meet the needs of the community.”

Lehighton Library. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO