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.”