At least 130 Neosho residents and Neosho R-5 School District employees showed up Tuesday evening to the Neosho High School to provide their input on the future of the school district.
With representatives from Sapp Design and Associates, who are creating the district's long-range plan, as well as Preston Smith, from Business Information Services, LLC, who is performing the district's demographic study, and Joe Kinder from George K. Baum and Company, on hand to explain school finances, bond issues, the long-range plan process and the district's needs, the school district made their first push in gaining community input and support toward a potential bond issue.
Attendees were asked to share their suggestions for the district on Post-it notes, which were then stuck on boards representing each campus in the district.
Overcrowding at the Neosho High School campus seemed to be the biggest concern, as Post-it notes covered the high school board, many with the same suggestion: move the junior high off of the high school campus.
Sharris Hayes, an eighth grade English teacher at Neosho Junior High, said separating the younger students from the high school environment is an important step the district needs to take.
"One of the biggest concerns is that eighth grade is in with the ninth through 12th grade," Hayes said. "Thirteen and 14-year-olds in the same building as 18-year-olds is not good. The high school wants that, the junior high eighth grade teachers want that, the parents want that, I think that's the biggest thing."
The crowd largely reflected Hayes' opinion, and when Kristi Beattie, of Sapp Design and Associates, asked attendees if they wanted to move the junior high to a separate location, her question was met with loud applause.
Other crowd suggestions included building a new pre-kindergarten through first grade facility, a new elementary school and a fine and performing arts center.
Eric McCune, project manager for Sapp Design and Associates, said the initial demographic findings indicate that the Neosho R-5 population is growing at such a rate that, a 10-year long-range plan should consider an additional 450 students by the end of the 10-year span.
However, he also noted that the long-range plan is expected to be a living document, revisited on an annual basis.
"A district with 4,500 students currently, in a 10-year master plan, that's 450 students, so that's an entire additional school," McCune said, adding that the district is already lagging behind on space.
Currently the school district uses 13 mobile units to accommodate for the lack of space.
Beattie also pointed out that many teachers, specifically at the high school, are sharing classrooms, moving their belongings around on carts throughout the day as they move from room to room due to the lack of space.
While school board members have discussed a potential bond issue in the future, they are currently waiting for a long-range plan and community input, to determine the best timing and priority projects before moving forward.
Page 2 of 2 - The last school bond issue passed in Neosho was in 2006, when voters approved a $12.5 million bond issue to finance the construction of Carver Elementary School and renovations at the Neosho High School.
Still, Beattie said Neosho residents pay the lowest rate of all the surrounding districts at $3.11 per $100 assessed valuation, with districts such as Carl Junction, Monett, Diamond, Joplin, Seneca and Carthage paying significantly more, while Webb City, McDonald County, Cassville and East Newton also collect a slightly higher tax levy than Neosho.
Without adequate funding for district projects coming from bonds or taxes, Kinder said the district is forced to move a little money at a time from the district's operating funds, fund 1 and fund 2, which he called "kid money" because they fund everyday operations and teacher salaries, to fund 4, the district's capital improvement fund.
However, with minimum operating costs coming in around $33 million, Kinder said it can be difficult to find enough funds to pay for construction of a school, which he said ranges from roughly $6 to $10 million.
"Issuing bonds allows you to get that money now to start construction now," Kinder said. "It allows you to tackle your needs up front and it allows you to get out ahead of inflation and borrow money at low rates, so bonds are a very important way for schools to finance buildings."
Of the $3.11 those in the Neosho district currently pay, Kinder said 36 cents of that goes to debt service.
"So what do you do to build buildings if you're not issuing bonds, you put money in fund 4, the capital projects fund," Kinder said. "Where does that money come from? That money is taken from kids and put into bricks and mortar if you're not issuing bonds."
Tim Crawley, the district's director of operations, said this was only the first of several community forums the district plans to host.
He said the suggestions gathered Tuesday evening would be compiled and made public by the next public forum.