In a first-ever mail-in election that drew higher than usual participation for a Santa Fe school tax election, voters on Tuesday approved the continuation of a property tax levy to fund technology programs.
The Education Technology Note was supported by about 59 percent of voters who cast ballots over the past month.
They opted to renew a tax that will provide Santa Fe’s public schools with $11 million a year for five years to pay for digital learning coaches, take-home laptop computers, wireless upgrades and other technological support.
While property tax bills won’t increase as a result of the election outcome, they would have decreased had voters refused to extend the 5-year-old initiative.
“Oh my gosh. I’m sorry,” Superintendent Veronica Garcia said in interrupting a Tuesday evening school board meeting after an administrator slipped her a note. “I have to announce this: 17,020 for, 11,971 against. Thank you, Santa Fe. That is much better than we could have imagined.”
The Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office said a third of the school district’s registered voters mailed in or hand-delivered ballots. Over the past decade, elections for tax levies or bonds for Santa Fe Public Schools have never drawn more than 10 percent of eligible voters.
“This is the point of the Local Elections Act. I believe in democracy. The more people that vote the better,” newly elected school board President Kate Noble said. “It feels incredibly good to know that the people of Santa Fe support the schools and on some level understood how important the [Education Technology Note] is. Technology is no longer optional in our schools. These are the tools that we need.”
Forty-five percent of the money goes toward providing devices for students, innovation and design spaces, and classroom technology. At a cost of $267 per device and $5 a year for maintenance, Santa Fe Public Schools provides take-home Chromebook laptop computers for all students in seventh through 12th grades. Students in second through sixth grade all have access to laptop and tablet computers at school.
Thirteen percent of the funds pay for 16 digital learning coaches across 30 schools to assist and train teachers in using different technologies in their lesson plans.
On Tuesday night, a contingent of digital learning coaches met at Del Charro, a downtown restaurant and bar, to nervously await the election results.
“It would have been really heartbreaking to leave my school,” Kate Gomez, a digital learning coach based at Santa Fe High, said in a phone interview. “I am just so thrilled that this program isn’t going to go backwards. We have worked so hard to get our school district where it is, and this really would have been a huge blow. They would have had to start over. We don’t have to now. We can keep going.”
The school district spent around $360,000 on the election. It cost more than $180,000 to distribute ballots, pay workers to count votes and cover postage for mail-in ballots. The district spent another $180,000 on voter education materials and marketing, such as a flyer sent out to voters in early February, a targeted mailer that went out to some voters in the middle of the month, and banner advertisements on buses and in front of campuses.
García has created an Elections Steering Committee to study ways to better engage the community around elections and provide transparency for how public funds will be used.
“Those 11,000 voters who voted against it don’t know what we are doing,” García said. “And we need to better communicate with them.”