NORDONIA HILLS -- Parents with kids who play sports or participate in band will likely be paying the same fees next year.

The Nordonia Hills School Board talked Pay to Participate fees during the April 24 work session. Currently high school students are charged $230 to participate in a sport, and middle school students are charged $115, according to Superintendent Dr. Joe Clark. He said the fees haven't changed in about four years.

"It doesn't come close to covering the cost of the entire athletic program," Clark said.

According to District Treasurer Karen Obratil, the district collected an estimated $125,500 but paid more than $370,000 in salaries and benefits just for sports. The figures did not include band costs. The remaining $244,500 was paid for by the district out of the general fund, not including transportation costs the district picks up the tab for as well. She also said the estimated figures did not take into account students who qualified for free or reduced lunch.

Students who qualify for free lunches pay 50 percent of the fees, while students who qualify for reduced lunches pay 75 percent of the fees.

Obratil researched the number of participants in the schools and found there are approximately 390 students who participate in one activity; 169 who participate in two activities; and 37 who take part in three activities. Only one student in the district participates in four activities but is a soccer player who doubles as the kicker for the football team.

There is no cap on a family, and while the Board didn't see the need to change it at this time, it is still being researched and discussed. Obratil said because there is a gap in cost between the high school and the middle school, if a family cap is to be established, the Board will need to take that into account.

Clark said he lives in Wadsworth and the school district there has a $500 cap for families with multiple kids participating.

Board member Tammy Strong asked why there are 19 students who participated in football who have not paid, and Clark said he would do a better job of making sure fees are paid in a timely manner.

Board member Liz McKinley said there are fees for activities beyond the pay to participate fee for any given sport or activity.

Fundraisers by boosters don't pay for salaries but they help pay for equipment. Clark said the district pays for uniforms on a rotating basis, but boosters may pay for warm-up uniforms.

Board member Nick Berchtold said he doesn't agree with lowering the fees while knowing in the future the district will need a levy.

"I don't feel comfortable going into a levy saying we need more money but we reduced the participation fees," Berchtold said, stating he recognizes Nordonia has one of the higher participation costs.

While no levy is in the works, the Board has publicly stated sometime in the next couple of years they will need to seek a levy.

New Board member Judy Matlin said she would like to explore a family cap for the participation fees in the future.

"Sometimes you have to give a little to get a lot," she said. "As long as it doesn't hurt the current budget or the long game ... maybe people would be more receptive."

Clark said one reason the pay to participate is being examined is because this is the time of the year he proposes fees for the following school year. While he said a decision isn't required during the next Board meeting scheduled for May, he said he will have a proposal drafted.

Looking at the gifted program for students

In other news, the district will be looking to hire two teachers for the gifted program as both are retiring this year, according to Clark. He said the state requires districts to identify gifted students but does not require school districts to service them. He added it was an area the district could improve upon.

According to Todd Stuart, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, 555 students in grades 2-12 have been identified as gifted and having a third gifted teacher on staff would serve the students better. He said he cannot put a number on how many more students would be served without knowing the new teachers, and how the additional person would be scheduled.

"The additional person would be scheduled based on his/her strengths and that will alter the number of students receiving additional services," Stuart said adding he would like to provide more service in the area of math in grades 2-6.

This is an area of expense the School Board is cautiously examining. Clark said the cost to hire a gifted teacher could range from $60,000 to $80,000 including benefits.

"The downside is it cost a lot of money," Clark said. "To hire a new teacher with a full benefits package, and someone who has the gifted certification, you are going to be looking probably someone with at least a master's degree and some experience."

Clark said a concern he has is knowing the Board is a year or two out from seeking a levy, if hiring a third person is ultimately a position the district could have to cut.

"I think we all would love to see it, but it's a matter of is the timing right to do it?" he asked.

Strong said she would like to see the first two replaced first and see how they work out and if a third person is to be hired, the two would already be in place to help the him/her transition in.

Board President Chad Lahrmer said he would like to see if there is a part-time opportunity for the position to be shared with another school district because of the expense.

"I can't swallow a whole salary right now but I do want us to get our foot in the door with this," Lahrmer said adding the busing cost will increase next year due to the new half-day kindergarten program.

After holding two community forums on the subject, the district decided beginning with the 2017-18 school year, half-time kindergarten students will attend school for half a day every day Monday-Friday. Currently, half-time kindergarten students attend school all day two days per week and half a day one day. With this change, buses will need to make an additional run for the kindergarten students in the afternoon.

Berchtold said he understands adding more staff for gifted programs would be an expense but feels the benefits would outweigh the cost.

"If we are going to be a great school district, then we need to look at investing in the extra position," Berchtold said. "The more kids we can get into gifted services, the more College Credit Plus program benefits they can obtain which ultimately is a much cheaper way of getting college credit than going to Kent State or the University of Akron."

Briana Barker: 330-541-9432