Just three months after the last general election, Santa Fe voters will be going to the polls again.
Except they won’t actually be going to the polls. They’ll be going to their mailboxes.
The “2019 Ed Tech Note election,” as it’s being billed by Santa Fe Public Schools, will be the first mail-only election in local history.
“How cool is that?” asks the narrator of a video about the election on the school district’s website.
Cool, perhaps, but also high-stakes for school officials who are placing just one question on the ballot: whether property tax revenue should be used to fund a new, five-year Digital Learning Plan. If voters approve the 1.5 mill tax, it will bring in $11 million a year for five years — with $9.6 million a year for Santa Fe Public Schools and the rest going to charter schools within the school district’s boundaries.
“It’s imperative that it pass,” Santa Fe Board of Education President Steven Carrillo said. “If it doesn’t pass, we’ll have to lay people off and end some very important programs in the schools.”
Tom Ryan, chief information and strategy officer for the school district, said if the measure fails, 30 people would lose their jobs.
“But the important thing is that both students and teachers would fall behind in technology,” Carrillo said.
The school district is beginning to promote the initiative, stressing that approving the money will not raise anyone’s taxes. Officials say it’s just a renewal of the taxes approved by district voters in 2016 — an average of about $10 a month.
Though, property owners would see a drop in their taxes if the measures fails. Residents with a home valued at about $300,000 would pay about $150 less per year.
If the tax is approved, 45 percent of it would be used to purchase take-home Chromebook computers for every student in seventh through 12th grades, plus other classroom technology, and it would fund “innovation and design spaces” for computer science classes.
Another 30 percent would be used to train staff, while 15 percent would fund computer network and wireless systems.
The remaining 10 percent would fund technical support.
Ryan said the school district has budgeted up to $65,000 for radio and print advertising as well as printed material to send to voters. Carrillo said school officials are making themselves available for radio interviews about the election.
Since the district started its first Digital Learning Plan with a school board-approved tax in 2014, according to its website, all schools in the district have state-of-the-art computer software, hardware and connectivity. This so called tech note, the district says, will keep that momentum going.
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said the ballots will be mailed out Feb. 5. They must be returned — either mailed back in the postage-paid return envelopes provided with the ballot or physically delivered to the County Clerk’s Office — by March 5.
Why the mail-in ballot?
Last year, the state Legislature passed the Local Election Act, which went into effect July 1. It requires school elections and other nonpartisan elections, such as soil and water conservation districts, community colleges and cities — to take place in November in odd-numbered years.
Waiting until November to renew the tech program would have created a funding gap, which Carrillo said was not an option. So the board opted for a mail-in election — as have other school districts in the state.
The school district has estimated the cost of the mail-in election to be about $180,000.
Carrillo said he believes the election-by-mail will result in more people participating compared to past school elections. In the last decade, Santa Fe school board and bond elections have never drawn more than 10 percent of eligible voters.
Still, some school officials have expressed concerns about the new voting method.
At a recent school board meeting, Associate Superintendent Tom Ryan said he’s worried that people just won’t participate in a snail-mail campaign.
“For young parents, a lot of them don’t mail anything,” he said.
Carrillo said these concerns are valid. “I’m sure there a lot of young people who have never even been inside a post office,” he said. “That’s why we’re making this effort to educate voters.”
On the web
• More information about Santa Fe Public School’s upcoming mail-in election seeking approval of a property tax to fund a districtwide technology program is available at tinyurl.com/SFPSmailinelection.