Carthage officers work to get phrase out about bond concern for Performing Arts Heart | Native Information

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Carthage School District officials and a committee advocating for a bond issue to pay for an $18 million performing arts center held separate meetings last week to inform the public about the proposal.

The committee plans two more meetings in the next two weeks, one at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 8, and another at noon on Tuesday, June 14. Both will be at the Carthage Water & Electric Community Room to provide information.

Superintendent Mark Baker said the district will hold another meeting in July, probably at the Carthage R-9 Auditorium.

The vote on the bond issue is Aug.2.

Baker said, “Whether you’re for or against or haven’t decided yet, we want to make sure you have the facts. Don’t assume what’s happening, what you’ve heard out in the public, someone on Facebook. Follow us, we’ll post things and it will be factual information we’ll put out.”

District priorities

Baker said the performing arts center has been a priority identified at public meetings going back to 2010, but those meetings also identified other, higher priorities. 

One was additional classroom space with an extension of the district’s 83-cent debt service levy that raised $18 million to pay for the construction of the Carthage Intermediate Center at Fir and Chapel roads, and reconstruction of the old Carthage Middle School at River and Centennial streets into the the current Carthage Junior High. That was accomplished in 2014.

Another was an early childhood center, built on Fairview Avenue using federal money, grants and private donations.

A third was tornado shelters at each of the five elementary schools, completed in 2015 using a special exemption passed by the Missouri Legislature to let the district make a one-time transfer of more of its operating money than normal into its capital spending fund. 

A fourth was a new multipurpose football stadium and athletic complex, which was finished in 2017 and paid for by a 10-year, 40-cent increase in the district’s $2.75 operating property tax levy, approved by voters in 2015. That 40-cent levy will expire in 2025, reducing the operating levy back to $2.75.

The district in 2020 went back to voters, who approved another extension of the debt service levy from 2034 to 2040 to borrow $10 million to double the space at the Carthage Technical Center South and renovate the Carthage Technical Center North to host adult programs.

District meeting

District officials are prohibited by law from advocating for the bond issue on school time, so Baker said the meeting on Thursday at the Carthage R-9 Auditorium was strictly to provide information and tell the public why the district was asking for the bond issue.

Baker said the 40-year-old auditorium no longer meets the needs of students. The district is seeking permission from voters to extend the current 83-cent property tax levy an additional two years, from 2040 to 2042, which will allow the district to borrow $18 million to build the center.

Baker said the district plans to raise $2 million in private donations to fit out the facility and classrooms that will come with it.

“An auditorium is a room where the event takes place,” Baker said. “A performing arts center takes everything into consideration — your classrooms, your shop rooms, all into one. You have the auditorium and you have everything that goes into the auditorium … it’s more than just a room.”

The auditorium in the new performing arts center would have at least 1,200 and possibly 1,300 seats, compared to 800 seats in the existing auditorium.

Separate classroom and storage spaces for the band, choir and drama programs will be built on the back of the auditorium, giving each classroom direct access to the stage area of the auditorium.

Discussion by residents

Residents discussed a variety of opinions and positions during a question-and-answer session after Baker made his presentation.

Steve Willis, a retired Carthage businessman, said he’s concerned that the district’s tax burden is too great and that the district keeps coming back to voters over and over. He pointed out that while the district’s tax levy may not increase, individual property values are almost guaranteed to increase, meaning taxpayers will pay more in taxes.

“If valuations go up, and they will, and the city of Carthage is wanting to put sidewalks down Baker Street and we need new bridges out here north of Carthage,” Willis said, “those are going to be tax increases on top of what we have here. We’re going to be taxed to death. We need our taxes to go down.”

Jean Griffith, Carthage resident, said he supports the performing arts center, but thinks the district should prioritize addressing childhood obesity and suggested the district build a public swimming pool instead of a performing arts center.

Lora Phelps, a member of the committee backing the bond issue, said as an employer and business person herself, she sees the need for what are now called soft skills, and the band, choir and drama programs supported by the performing arts center, teach those exact skills.

Phelps, who was a co-chair of both the Carthage 2020 and Carthage 2020 and Beyond committees, said: “Everyone can see how important it is to have good employees, and when we hear about the fact that people just need to show up. You’ve got to show up on time for band concerts and for show choir performances, and drama practices.

“The other thing is this whole conversation about mental health and the anxiety that these kids are going through and the depression and battling all these things, and what studies have shown is creating these relationships with teachers and staff and authority figures combats that for these kids. Again, if you’re spending hours and hours, you’re creating relationships, it becomes like a family. So the two things we heard about in those community sessions, that we hear about constantly about how can we support our kids and how do we help them become better people, that’s what these programs do, and that’s what this is about.”