Voters in the Santa Fe school district widely favored renewal of a $100 million general obligation bond and a 1.5 mill levy for building maintenance and upgrades and new construction projects.
Early results of Tuesday’s election showed the property tax-funded measures were set to pass by nearly 50- and 60-point margins.
It was the first time in recent memory Santa Fe Public Schools’ bond and mill levy questions were placed on a consolidated November ballot with other local races, under the New Mexico Local Elections Act in 2019. Previously, school district elections were held in February and drew only 5 percent to 10 percent of eligible voters.
This year’s change raised some concerns of a higher voter turnout in an election that included the Santa Fe mayor’s race, which might lead to higher numbers of votes cast against the measures.
But Tuesday’s election was a different story.
In 2017, when voters last approved the school district’s general obligation bond, about 67 percent of the 8,300 ballots cast favored the bond. By 10 p.m. Tuesday, the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office website showed 79 percent of the almost 20,000 ballots counted were yes votes. The mill levy approval rate was slightly lower, at 73 percent.
“This is kind of what we’ve seen in previous elections,” Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said Tuesday night, as the votes rolled in. “We’re very pleased and appreciate the voters that went out or cast early votes in this election in favor for both of our items. It goes to show our community has our students in their minds when they go to the polls.”
School board President Kate Noble, who ran unopposed for reelection to her District 3 seat, also expressed gratitude toward local voters.
“More voters engaged is better; more people supporting public schools is better,” Noble said.
“Change is always scary,” she added, “but at some point you have to believe in democracy ... in more people having a voice, and I really believe that.”
The mill levy will generate about $9 million annually for six years for facilities maintenance — or, as Noble called it, “the meat and potatoes of what we need to do in the school district.”
The bond funds will go toward several construction and renovation projects across the district.
The largest is a new home for Mandela International Magnet School, which offers students an option to earn an International Baccalaureate.
The new building likely will be constructed on the Agua Fría Street campus that now houses Mandela, at the site of the now-defunct Academy at Larragoite and the former Larragoite Elementary School.
Groundbreaking on the project is anticipated in early 2022, Chavez said.
District Executive Director of Operations Gabe Romero has said the Mandela project, paired with an estimated $14.5 million investment in the Early College Opportunities High School, signal the district’s commitment to providing alternative options to traditional public schools.
Both schools have plans to boost their enrollment in coming years — Mandela to 430 students in 2023 from 280 students last year — even after a loss of more than 600 students districtwide amid the pandemic. Enrollment data for the current school year is expected to be released later this month.
Bond funds also will go toward outdoor spaces at Santa Fe High School, including a drop-off area and breezeway totaling $16.4 million.
About $23 million in bond funds are set for sustainability, safety and athletics projects. The remaining funds will go toward Americans with Disabilities Act compliance upgrades and other efforts.