On Monday, Cathy Deal gave a teary plea to the Akron Board of Education to consider keeping her job as an occupational therapy assistant — a position she was told would be cut more than two months ago without a specific timetable.

Up until Monday, Deal said she still didn’t know when her last day would be.

“It was two months’ worth of torture to go in every day to hear kids cry and ask why we’re not coming back,” Deal said after the meeting.

Five other occupational and physical therapy assistants who also learned in April that their positions were being cut attended the board meeting Monday night along with Deal as a last-ditch effort to keep their jobs, but they emerged unsuccessful.

The superintendent recommended all eight occupational and physical therapy assistant positions in the district be cut.

Board member Bruce Alexander asked the board to withhold the vote until discussing it further in executive session after the regular meeting. Board member Lisa Mansfield and Board President Patrick Bravo were both absent.

After an hour and a half of deliberation, the board voted unanimously to move forward with suspending the contracts.

The three physical therapist assistant positions were cut due to declining enrollment of students who need those services, said Superintendent David James.

“Looking at the student count, [the special education department] felt the number of kids they’re projected to have in the fall justified number of staff positions,” James said.

The five occupational therapy assistant positions, on the other hand, were cut and will be replaced with occupational therapists in an attempt to provide services beyond the more limited role of the assistants.

Occupational therapists have the ability to work with kids on their own, while assistants are there to help students carry out their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). To serve more students, the district plans to hire three additional occupational therapists and bump one from part time to full time.

The difference in base pay between assistants and their therapist counterparts is about $10,000 each. But they’ll be able to cover more ground, and the reduction in physical therapist assistants will save the district an estimated $219,000 annually, said Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWiliams-Woods.

“Every single year, we look at every position in the district and make sure that we have the number of students to justify the number of positions we have,” McWilliams-Woods said. “These are the toughest decisions we make, but we have to be fiscally responsible for our taxpayers.”

Still, the assistants at the board meeting were upset at the lack of notification about their positions. Their last days will be July 13.

McWilliams-Woods said employees whose positions are in jeopardy typically meet with human resources and the union president to discuss the terms, but they have not been able to meet up yet.

Union President Pat Shipe was unavailable to comment.

The assistants were also upset because they said they work more directly with kids than actual physical and occupational therapists, who deal more with creating Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and working with parents.

Deal explained that the assistants work with the therapists in different buildings throughout the district to help students of varying abilities carry out their IEPs.

“It is this best-practice team approach that you are about to suspend away … it’s a cost-effective measure for the school district,” Deal said. “I’m highly doubtful that this change could save the district money.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.