TALLMADGE — The Tallmadge school board on Wednesday unanimously approved a $1.7 million spending-reduction plan to help balance the district’s budget that includes cutting busing for 60 percent of students, eliminating 15½ positions districtwide and raising pay-to-participate fees for sports and other activities.

Because its levy didn’t pass in November, the Tallmadge school district has to make cuts to its budget for the next school year. If the levy does pass in May, the district plans to reverse some of the reductions. But if the levy doesn’t pass in May or at all in 2019, the district will have to cut even more.

“These cuts are not fun, but it’s where we’re at, and it’s unfortunate we’re here,” said school board President Rick Kellar.

Tallmadge voters last fall shot down the same five-year, 7.4-mill levy that will appear on the May ballot, with nearly 55 percent of November voters rejecting the levy. It would raise $3.1 million a year, with the money going toward current expenses, and would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $259 a year, or about $21 a month.

About 60 people attended the work session at Tallmadge High School on Wednesday evening, during which Superintendent Jeff Ferguson presented the spending-reduction plan for the 2019-20 school year to the board.

Reducing busing to the state minimum would save an estimated $700,000. That includes eliminating all high school busing and enforcing the state 2-mile limit, which requires school districts to bus students who live more than 2 miles from their schools. Districtwide, 60 percent of Tallmadge students would no longer be bused. With all the busing reductions, about 13 bus drivers would lose their jobs.

Reductions in certified staff will include 13½ employees — 10½ teachers and three tutors, with a savings of $820,000. Reductions in classified staff will include two employees, with a savings of $40,000. The district will also suspend nonsupervision supplemental contracts, with a savings of $91,000.

With the staff reductions, affected programs for the 2019-20 school year will include language arts, math, science, family consumer science, French, physical education and in-school-suspension/credit recovery in the high school; gateway to technology, French, library and physical education in the middle school; reading and two tutors (math and reading) in the elementary; and two paraprofessionals (the two classified staff reductions) and one English language learner tutor districtwide.

Reductions in technology will save about $75,000. That includes eliminating new technology purchases, reducing technology supply accounts and freezing the middle school’s Chromebook program in the future.

Pay-to-participate fees would be implemented for all extracurricular and co-curricular activities districtwide, with an estimated revenue of $200,000. At the high school, the annual fees are $250 per sport/marching band/cheer and $100 per club/activity, with a yearly family cap for students in grades 9-12 of $750.

At the middle school, the annual fees are $125 per sport/cheer and $50 per club/activity, with yearly family caps for students in grades 6-8 of $375 and for students in grades 6-12 of $750. Ferguson said current fees are $75 per sport at the high school and $35 per sport at the middle school, with clubs currently not charged.

"If we start losing these things, our kids are gonna be losing out,” said board Vice President Christine Cipa, who added she’s "absolutely" voting for the levy "because there were generations before that voted yes for my kids, and we have to pay it forward."

Ferguson has said because the levy failed in November, the district lost a year of tax collection and funding, which means permanent reductions have to be made for the 2019-20 school year.

According to information provided by the school district, along with issues with the way the state funds schools, one of the most significant reasons the levy is needed is because the district lost $2.5 million in state revenue annually after the state began phasing out the tangible personal property tax, a tax levied on businesses, in 2004. The school district won’t receive any of that tax revenue in 2019.

Tallmadge’s last new operating levy passed in 2009, and according to the district, if it hadn’t lost the funding from the tangible personal property tax, a levy wouldn’t need to be on the ballot this year. School district officials have said they’ve stretched that money, which was only expected to last about five years, as far as they can.

If the levy passes in May, some programs would return to the district in August, including restoring busing to current levels and returning pay-to-participate fees to current levels.

Regardless of whether the levy passes or fails in May, the staffing cuts will be in place for the 2019-20 school year.

Ferguson has said if the levy doesn’t pass in May, it could go back on the ballot in August or November. If no levies pass and the district doesn’t get any new money in 2019, further cuts for the 2010-21 school year could include reducing all-day kindergarten to half-day, reducing central office and administrative positions and reducing athletic/extracurricular programs.

The board will host another town-hall-style work session at 6 p.m. April 3 in Room 1221 at Tallmadge High School, 140 N. Munroe Road.

Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.