The Norton Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night for several measures to trim costs in the district, including eliminating 15 staff positions and reducing hours for dozens of special education assistant jobs.

The board approved reducing the number of special education assistants from 55 to 48 and the number of bus drivers from 25 to 17.

Of those 48 special education assistant positions, only eight will be full time next year, compared to 32 this year. The rest will be part time with varying hours.

Norton Superintendent Dana Addis said the hours and number of positions were determined by how many students throughout the district have individualized education programs.

“We have totally restructured all of these positions,” Addis said.

The exact number of hours that were reduced was unavailable Monday night.

The cuts come after a difficult year financially for the Norton school district following the failure to pass a levy in the past two election cycles. The levy would have generated an additional $1.1 million annually for operating expenses.

Without budget cuts, school officials were predicting the district of about 2,400 students would face deficit spending in the 2019-20 school year.

Before the levy failed in May, the district had already made staffing cuts of about $300,000, including central office and service employees.

The district also sought to save money shortly after the May levy failed by offering buyouts to teachers who were close to retirement — five accepted.

In addition, teachers have agreed they won’t receive any increase to their base salary for the next school year.

During Monday’s meeting, the board also set costs for extracurricular activities. All high school sports, as well as marching band, will cost $100; all middle school sports will cost $50; and many clubs districtwide will cost $25. There will be a $350 cap per family, per year.

The board originally voted to implement extracurricular fees during its meeting June 4. Plans were also made to vote on the reduction of staff that day; however, at that meeting, Jan Weber, the president of Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) Local 167, asked the board to reconsider eliminating the positions.

OAPSE represents the district’s noncertified staff, which includes custodians, secretaries, aides and bus drivers.

The board spent the month negotiating a new agreement with Weber, working together to restructure the special education assistant positions.

The affected employees will have to bid to keep their jobs later this month, with priority given to those who have seniority with the district.

None of the affected employees were present at Monday’s meeting, and Weber could not be reached for comment.

“We’re trying really hard to save money where we can. These cuts are very necessary at this point,” Pat Santelli, vice president of the board, said last week over the phone. “We’re trying as hard as possible to make cuts where we can without affecting overall educational programming.”

The elimination of bus driver positions will affect both busing and start times for schools.

Starting this upcoming school year, high school riders will be picked up first, then middle school riders, and then elementary and primary students will ride together.

The new routes create new start times for the district’s schools:

• Norton High School will start at 7:20 a.m. and end at 2:20 p.m. The building will open at 6:45 a.m.

• Norton Middle School will start at 8 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. The building will open at 7:45 a.m.

• Norton Elementary and Primary schools will start at 9:10 a.m. and end at 3:40 p.m.

District Treasurer Stephanie Hagenbush said the amount of savings from the district’s efforts won’t be available until August, when bids are made for positions.

Addis anticipates the savings will be “considerable.”

Addis said plans have not yet been decided for another levy.

He added that if the district needs to make additional cuts for next school year, officials will begin looking at things like academics and educational programming.

“It isn’t anything anybody wants to do, but it’s where we’re at financially,” Addis said. “We ultimately hope the community sees and respects the cuts we have made. We’ll continue to work with our community on our relationship with them … we need them in order to survive.”

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