Most people in the Carthage school district feel good about the schools and that gives a potential bond issue, that would not raise patrons' taxes, a good chance of passage in April.

Most people in the Carthage school district feel good about the schools and that gives a potential bond issue, that would not raise patrons' taxes, a good chance of passage in April.

That was the message from gleaned from the results of a survey of 380 randomly chosen Carthage school district patrons conducted in November by a Kansas City area firm called Patron Insight.

Ken DeSieghardt, with Patron Insights, presented Carthage R-9 Board of Education with those results at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday at the Carthage Middle School.

DeSieghardt called the results of the telephone survey “very positive.”

“You can see you are dealing with fairly interested population and then a very nice spread of education levels,” DeSieghardt said. “(The survey) builds a story of what people think of the district right now and what they think of the ideas you are considering.”

Among the highlights of the survey:

Support for a bond issue
DeSieghardt said there was strong support in the district for a bond issue that did not include a tax increase, something the district is looking to ask voters to approve in April.

“We then said what if it was a bond issue and it resulted in no tax increase and 83 percent said they would favor or strongly favor such a proposal,” DeSieghardt said. “We asked (the people who didn't favor a bond issue) why, because this is our last chance to see if there's anything sort of hiding in the weeds that they haven't had the chance or haven't felt comfortable talking about. It's very common for people to say you can say it's a no-tax increase but I don't believe it to be the case. Remember only 57 people out of our 380 qualified answered this question by not being in favor of the tax increase. Only 36 out of the 380 said I don't believe it will not raise taxes. You're starting in a very good place.”

Rating the district
People were asked to rate 13 different factors in the school district and the factors rated, from best to worst, were; Safety of students in the district, performance of teachers, quality of extracurricular activities, quality of education, quality of technology in the classroom, overall grade, quality of school buildings, performance of the school board, value received for the tax dollars spent, performance of the superintendent, class size, the district's record on making and fulfilling promises, efforts by the district to interact with citizens and involve them in decision making, quality of the athletic facilities.

DeSieghardt said of those 13 factors, all but the last, quality of athletic facilities, would have been graded a B or above, if given a letter grade according to the five-point scale. He also called nine of those 13 issues “hot button” issues, meaning at least 81 percent of the people in the survey were willing to offer a grade on the issue, meaning they felt well informed on it.

“You have quite a few patron hot buttons.” DeSieghardt said. “These are the areas that a typical patron, and when we say typical patron, we mean everything from you're most passionate parent to the person who just sees schools as an item on their tax bill. The whole spectrum. These are the things that when someone says what do you think of the Carthage School District, this is what they would think of first. With the exception of that one area, the athletic facilities, they are all at a B or better, so we start in a really good place.”

Rating strengths and weaknesses
DeSieghardt said 137 of the 380 people surveyed, or 36 percent, could not identify a specific area of the district needing improvement.

“It's always a very good sign when “Don't know,” is the number one (negative) answer,” DeSieghardt said. “That means people are not sitting around thinking about all the things they'd like to change about the school district. Reduce taxes and manage the budget better, you can see those appeared on the chart, that's a very common opinion right now. You are not unique to have patrons that say 'I wish my taxes were lower,' and 'I wish you would manage the money better.'”

When asked about the district's strengths, 93 people talked about teachers, 85 talked about the districts academics or curriculum, and 59 talked about the community support of the district.

“Teachers was number one in terms of strengths, which is always a good sign of a strong school district,” DeSieghardt said. “Academics and curriculum were mention the second most frequently, followed by community support, three good things to have at the top of the list.”

Rating ideas
DeSieghardt said the survey presented six different project ideas for survey respondents to consider. This is the list in the order of the number of people who rated the ideas either high priority or medium priority on their first response: tornado safe rooms, completing the Carthage Tech Center South, renovating the baseball stadium, construction of a new football field and track, building a performing arts center at the high school, building eight lighted tennis courts.

DeSieghardt said survey takers gave the respondents information about the Carthage 2020 public meetings that were held in 2010 and talked about the growth in the district's student population over the last 10 years, then asked the patrons to consider the list a second time.

“It's easy for people to say all six of these are a high priority, but you have to get the information out there, then you say you've had a couple of minutes to think about it, what's really number one to you, what's really number two and so on,” DeSieghardt said. “Three projects, and particularly the top two, really separated themselves in terms of the preferences among patrons.”

The top three responses when asked a second time were; adding tornado safe rooms to all the elementary schools, completing Carthage Tech Center South, a new football stadium and track at Carthage High School.