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About $14.5 million from a school bond on the ballot in November would go to ongoing work at Early College Opportunities High School, including construction of a cafeteria and gym.

Voters in the Santa Fe school district will decide in the Nov. 2 election whether to approve a $100 million general obligation bond for capital improvements, much of which is targeted at projects bolstering nontraditional schools for secondary students.

Another ballot question will seek renewal of a 1.5-mill levy for facilities maintenance.

The levy and bond both would be paid with property tax revenue.

The largest item in Santa Fe Public Schools’ bond proposal is $22.5 million to build a new home for Mandela International Magnet School, now housed in the old Larragoite Elementary School building on Agua Fría Street.

Mandela, which offers the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate model, was established in 2014. It initially served about 100 middle school students in a wing of the now-defunct De Vargas Middle School on property where Milagro Middle School now stands.

Mandela then expanded from a middle school to a school that serves students in grades seven through 12. As of last year, it had nearly 275 students enrolled via a lottery system, said Gabe Romero, the district’s executive director of operations.

“The program’s really growing. It’s a high-demand school,” Romero said. “It’s a really rigorous curriculum. It’s not for every student, but there is definitely a niche for that type of school in the district.”

Mandela had 300 applicants this year.

It’s been a few decades since the Larragoite building has seen major renovations. Romero said he believes it would be easier to house Mandela in a new building on the Larragoite site rather than renovate the old facility.

It’s too soon for a project timeline, but Romero predicted it would be completed before the next bond cycle in 2025.

About $14.5 million of the 2021 bond would go toward continuing renovations at Early College Opportunities High School on West Zia Road, just south of Santa Fe High School.

The hands-on vocational school serves students who earn diplomas while also working toward associate degrees and professional certificates from Santa Fe Community College and other higher education institutions.

About $2.7 million of that amount would be used to build a cafeteria and gym.

Nearly $10.1 million was allocated for ECO from the 2017 bond for building renovations and site improvements, and $3.5 million more was shifted to the school this spring following a price hike.

Contractor bids exceeded the project’s original budget due to global supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, district officials said.

The project, which includes the construction of a new academic building, likely will go out to bid again later this year.

The proposed investments in Mandela and ECO seem to point to a greater desire among students and families in Santa Fe Public Schools for a variety of post-graduation paths.

“We want to have a lot of options for our community,” Romero said.

ECO had 273 students in 2019-20, and the district believes it could grow to serve more than 400.

Other projects in the bond proposal include $16.4 million for a new common space, breezeway and drop-off at Santa Fe High and a $1.1 million new roof for Capital High.

“Making sure that the roofs are maintained and those sorts of things may not seem terribly exciting, but my God, they are so important,” outgoing Superintendent Veronica García said in an interview.

Heating, ventilation and cooling improvements, plumbing, and projects bringing facilities into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act also are proposed as part of an $18 million districtwide facility renewal effort.

“We take it for granted when those things are working, but it can be miserable when they’re not,” García said. “It can really impact the learning environment and the working conditions for our employees, and I’m proud of Santa Fe Public Schools for continuing that.”

About $4.7 million is marked for sustainability efforts across the district, including solar power, water conservation and electrical upgrades.

District officials said property owners aren’t expected to see an increase in their tax bills if the bond measure and mill levy are approved. The bond measure essentially would renew a $100 million general obligation bond voters last approved in February 2017, while the tax levy is a continuation of the mill levy voters last approved for maintenance in February 2015, when it was expected to generate about $9 million a year.

If the measures fail, however, property owners would pay lower taxes.

District officials in 2017 estimated a homeowner with property valued at $300,000 would pay an average of about $80 a year for the general obligation bond.

A 1.5-mill levy, meanwhile, would cost about $150 a year for a home with the same value.

In the past, Santa Fe Public Schools has seen wide support from voters for property tax measures.

School board President Kate Noble said, “I would say that part of the reason that Santa Fe has enjoyed such good support from the community is we have taken the responsibility of being very careful about what we ask for incredibly seriously.”

(9) comments

Lee DiFiore

Two things are for certain about the public school system. First, teachers, their unions, school administrators and elected officials at all levels have destroyed public education in this country. And despite being down for the count, these same groups continue their assault on those institution to this very day. Witness their refusal to support in person learning for almost a year and their teaching of leftist ideology (including critical race theory) to the kiddos. And second, no amount of money will ever be enough for those running the public schools. Their mantra has always been and will continue to be "for a few quadrillion more we can get it right". That is a lie! It is way past time for vouchers and school choice so that we can rid ourselves of the cancer that is the public education system. While the left distracted with shouts of CLIMATE CHANGE and RACISM we stood by while they destroyed education in this country. Shame on all of us.

Jarratt Applewhite

NM supports education at a higher rate (as a % of total State revs) than most states. No question our schools need more, but there are almost no viable sources for new revenue. The Santa Fe issue is somewhat different. Our atrocious cost-of-living is not fully considered in the equalization formula that is used to allocate per-student funds to our 89 school districts. It is a first-order social disaster that SF has to import so many of its workers. Sadly, many teachers can't afford to live here primarily due to our cost of housing.

JJ Set

Decades of these bond issues. At least this time, it's being made public. Take a look at the 2015 terms and conditions of that bond, see what and where it applies to. Ms. Garcia has had plenty of dollars to give computers to students, improve this and that, and how are these schools doing with the cash we've given them? Really?

Sasha Pyle

Every time I read about the SFPS budget, my eyes race ahead searching for any mention of improving pay for teachers. I want our kids to have safe, attractive facilities. But are breezeways more important than the heart of a school—teachers? Don’t we want to attract, keep and honor the best educators? These tireless souls show up early, stay late, and shape the futures of our young. This is an expensive town to live in and the teachers need a raise.

Emily Koyama

Property taxes NEVER go down!

Sasha Pyle

Another good point. They pay for things that are built, finished, used, then torn down, but the next project always gets its own tax increase.

Jarratt Applewhite

These property tax bonds are only available for capital items like buildings, infrastructure & major maintenance items. They can not be used for recurring operating costs like salaries. Over time old bonds are paid off and new bonds are issued to maintain the bonding capacity of the school district. These bonds will keep the current bonding level and sustain the current level of tax.

Sasha Pyle

Thanks Jarrett, I appreciate the clarification. But our SFPS Board has not kept pace with fair salaries, whether or not they would come from a bond, and that’s the point I was trying to make. The focus is always on buildings, never on talent.

Sasha Pyle

I apologize, auto-incorrect changed your name and I didn’t catch it before posting, Jarratt!

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