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Neoga Superintendent Chuck Castle speaks to community members about the financial issues the district faces. The school board intends to cut intends to cut more than $690,000 to deal with the deficit.

Neoga School District made the first of what will be more budget cuts to come for the 2013-2014 school year.

At a meeting Thursday, the board voted unanimously to reduce Carol Smith, the elementary school principal, from a full-time principal to serving 60 percent of her time as a principal and 40 percent as a Title I teacher.

The board had announced during its public hearings Feb. 8 and Wednesday the possibility of splitting one full-time principal position to serve as both a half-time principal and half-time Title I instructor in a move that was estimated to save the district more than $37,000.

Neoga Superintendent Chuck Castle said the board was advised not to reduce a principal to two half-time positions and settled on the 60/40 solution. However, the board did not disclose how much that resolution would save the district.

While the savings would help bring down the district's deficit, the cost of Smith's reduction would still leave the district with more than $675,000 shortfall. In order to make the public aware of the impending budget problems, public hearings were held to seek ideas and hear concerns from parents and community members.

"We've tried to think about everything we can," said school board President Mark Livingston Wednesday. "We're open to listening, but we have to make sure changes are made or we face losing a school."

More than 250 people attended the two meetings, with many concerns focusing on the impending loss of teachers, as well as administrator and employee salaries and moving seventh and eighth grade students from their wing of the high school into the middle school.

Board of education Vice President Tina Moore said many of the problems the district faces come from a lack of state funding.

"We knew this was coming," she said. "We were led to believe, and take what you want from this, that it's going to turn around, it's going to turn around, it's going to turn around and here we are. Honestly, it'll be another three years until the state turns around. So that's where we are."

While many cuts are proposed to the district's budget, the board has proposed cutting a high school physical education position, an elementary school physical education teacher and office clerks at the middle school and elementary school.   

Also, the district plans to reduce high school staff, including an agriculture teacher, an industrial arts teacher, a business teacher and a school nurse.

Castle said the threat of continual losses of state aid could impact not only local school districts but every school in the state.

"If the state continues to migrate the cost of education on the backs of the taxpayers, they're going to drive every school in the state out of money," he said.

Moore said the best way for concerned parents and citizens to have a say and to help with the district is to get involved.

"What's next for us?" she said. "It's time to step up as a community. We have excellent boosters. We've had some interest in starting a parent-teacher organization."

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com.

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