Santa Fe Public Schools is launching a campaign to win voter approval for the renewal of a 2-mill property tax levy to pay for things the average person often doesn't see in schools.

Computer network infrastructure. Telecommunications upgrades. Security and fire protection systems. And -- more visible to the naked eye -- playground improvements.

Downtown Santa Fe
Downtown Santa Fe Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0], Wikimedia Commons

"We have 2.1 million square feet of property to take care of," Superintendent Veronica Garcia told a crowd of some 40 people during a community breakfast Wednesday at Kearny Elementary School. If Santa Fe voters do not approve the tax in the Feb. 6 election, she added, "it could be a bit of a train wreck for us."

Such an occurrence would leave the district hard-pressed to find other sources for the money needed to maintain services such as internet and infrastructure upgrades, she said.

Referring to the state's decision to sweep money from school districts' cash reserves to help fill a budgetary gap last year, school board member Maureen Cashmon told the assembly there's nowhere else to look for the funding.

"We don't have a lot of extra cash now, if this bond fails, in our reserves," she said.

Passage of the levy, she said, is "critical" to the district's success.

The push to educate voters speaks to the concern some may have regarding voter fatigue. Wednesday's event was one of a series of community meetings and board discussions the district plans to explain the bond election with the hope of winning over voters.

More commonly known within school funding circles as SB-9, the school district wants to extend a current 2-mill property tax levy over six years and raise about $11.5 million a year for the district and another $1.5 million for local charter schools. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, which is one-third of a property's market value. Thus, a homeowner with property valued at $300,000 could expect to pay $200 a year for the 2-mill levy.

The levy, district officials said, is a local funding source for limited capital infrastructure projects that affect the entire school district. It is separate from general obligation bonds, which fund school construction or major repairs and upgrades.

District leaders emphasize that property taxes will not rise as a result of passage of the bond. They also acknowledge that they won't go down.

But there may be some fear voters are growing weary of such elections. Every year since 2012, the district has asked voters to approve a variety of similar bond requests to raise funds for capital projects, technology initiatives, and upgrades and maintenance at its roughly 30 school sites, as well as its administrative buildings.

School district voters last approved a 2-mill levy in 2012, and they also approved a three-year renewal of an $11 million annual property tax levy in 2016 to fund technology upgrades in the public schools and to purchase student computers. The district will ask voters to renew that technology bond in 2019.

Separate of school district issues, voters also had to contend in 2017 with a proposed city of Santa Fe sugary-beverage tax to raise funds for early childhood education and a proposed Santa Fe County gross receipts tax increase. (Both measures failed.) In addition, the city's mayoral election takes place in March 2018.

"I do think that the political environment across the country is causing fatigue," sand Jamai Blivin, founder of the Santa Fe-based nonprofit Innovate + Educate. But Blivin, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said she thinks Santa Fe voters have been continually supportive of such bond requests because they understand the district's needs.

Santa Fe builder Thomas Markey -- who said he does not work for the district -- said he was impressed with the district's presentation Wednesday. "I'd vote for it," he said.

The Feb. 6 election will be held in tandem with a Santa Fe Community College general obligation bond request for some $24 million to build a new automotive shop for students, improve greenhouse technology classrooms and upgrade its fitness center, among other projects. The college last held a bond vote in 2010 when voters approved $35 million to build the Higher Education Center on Siringo Road and for campus upgrades and repairs. College officials also are working to educate the public about that bond.

Early voting for the election begins Wednesday, Jan. 17, and ends Saturday, Feb. 3.

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