After Feb. defeat, school tax goes before Peñasco voters June 18

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Though Peñasco voters rejected the renewal of a two-mill levy for public schools in February, the Peñasco Independent School Board voted unanimously to pursue the question again at the ballot box June 18.

Voters in the Taos and Questa school districts supported the renewal of the levy for six years during school board elections Feb. 5. However, the effort to reimpose the tax met with resistance in Peñasco, including the circulation of anonymous flyers opposed to the levy. Voters in that district rejected the tax 325 to 276.

Under the state Public School Capital Improvements Act, so-called SB-9 funds collected through the tax, which costs property owners $2 per $1,000 in taxable value, may be used for purchasing or improving public school grounds, building, adding to or remodeling public school buildings, maintaining school facilities and grounds, purchasing activity vehicles or purchasing computer software or hardware for use in public school classrooms.

In an email to The Taos News, Peñasco superintendent Theresa Baca-Watson said the school board voted unanimously in mid-April to pursue the tax again.

“The board decided to go out to the community with more information this time about the funds and how we use these funds,” she wrote. “These funds are very important, because they are used to maintain the buildings, grounds and equipment of the district — otherwise the monies would have to come from the operational fund. The operational fund is the fund used to pay teachers, other staff, to purchase supplies, insurances, utilities, legal fees, etc.”

When the levy was up for renewal earlier this year, Baca-Watson said the district stood to collect more than $1 million in SB-9 funds if the tax were reimposed. She said the district would use the money to upgrade technology, add security cameras, perform renovations and conduct general maintenance.

She said she has heard from some who are resistant to the tax, particularly as changes were made to the state law to specifically include charter schools, which collect SB-9 funds proportionate to their student populations. La Jicarita Charter School is scheduled to open in Peñasco this fall. That school intends to serve 45 students in grades K-6 during its first year.

“So far we are hearing from some staff and community members that because the new charter school may be taking a cut of the proceeds, they will not be voting in favor of the SB-9,” Baca-Watson wrote.

When asked whether, having failed so recently, the tax will pass this time around, Baca-Watson wrote: “That is the question of the year.”

Polling places for the June 18 election will be located at the Sam Córdova Senior Citizens Center and the Peñasco Community Center. Absentee voting will be available at the Taos County Clerk’s office, on Albright Street, May 24 through June 14, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The county Bureau of Elections can be reached at (575) 737-6400.

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