NEOSHO, Mo. — The Neosho School District will ask voters April 7 to authorize an almost 12% operating levy increase to pay for a package that includes teacher pay and capital projects.

With a unanimous vote, board members approved ballot language Wednesday during a special meeting that asks for a 39-cent increase to the district's levy.

Passage of the measure would allow the district to do two major things:

• Complete construction of a variety of buildings, including a performing arts center, field house and locker room renovations at the high school and safe rooms at Benton Elementary and Neosho Middle schools.

• Gain extra money to improve teacher and staff salaries in the future.

The district's current levy is set at $3.35 per $100 of assessed valuation. Of that, $2.75 of the levy is for operations and 60 cents is for debt service.

If the measure passes, the district's levy would increase to $3.74. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay $710.60 annually in school taxes. That same homeowner now pays $636.50.

Superintendent Jim Cummins said that 14 cents of the 39-cent increase would be used to raise the district's operating levy to its ceiling of $2.89. That would provide funding for the district to strengthen recruitment and retention of staff through salary increases, he said.

The other 25 cents of the levy increase would be used to raise up to $22 million for the building projects, using a lease-purchase payment structure instead of a general obligation bond issue, effectively creating a 25-cent capital projects fund. The debt service levy would remain set at 60 cents.

Board members on Monday reviewed a list of the intended projects:

• The performing arts center, to be built on the north end of the high school, would feature a 1,500-seat auditorium and stage, as well as new classrooms, rehearsal spaces and workshops for band, choir and theater classes.

Initial cost estimates came in as high as almost $13.4 million, but board members on Monday expected that price to go up.

• A field house large enough to accommodate a 50-by-60-yard field (50-by-50 yards plus an extra 10 yards for an end zone). Cummins said on Wednesday that it would be built to the north of the football field, where a baseball field currently is. A new baseball field would be built at the district's softball complex, located at 12350 Norway Road, behind George Washington Carver Elementary School.

That project would also include an upgrade for locker rooms and a concessions plaza at the football field. It has an estimated cost of about $4 million.

• Safe rooms would be built on the north corner of Benton Elementary and on the southwest corner of the middle school. Each safe room is estimated to cost about $2 million.

During Wednesday's meeting, board members also approved selecting Stifel Financial Corp. as the underwriter for the financing.

The ballot language solidifies a plan that started in May to build only safe rooms. As district officials met with members of the community, they heard about other things they felt needed upgrades comparable to other districts, board President Stuart Puckett said Monday.

"The safe rooms have always been on the table, but we decided back in December that now is the time," Puckett said. "Someday is not a plan. We got a consensus, and now we're moving forward."

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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