As the November election draws nearer, Northern New Mexico College is asking voters in the Taos, Río Arriba and Santa Fe counties to approve a two-mill levy to fund …
As the November election draws nearer, Northern New Mexico College is asking voters in the Taos, Río Arriba and Santa Fe counties to approve a two-mill levy to fund Northern's career and technical education programs, primarily located on its El Rito campus.
This will make it possible for the college to offer associate degree programs in technical trades on the El Rito campus as early as fall 2020 and expand programs on both campuses in the future. Reintroducing trade programs will strengthen job opportunities and growth in the region while filling existing needs at Los Alamos National Laboratory and other local employers, according to college officials.
The initiative will also increase the free dual-credit courses offered to partner school districts and provide free transportation to and from Northern's campuses to the districts' residents.
Cost and funding
So what exactly is a "mill levy"? Simply put, it's a property tax based on the assessed value of a property, the rate of which is expressed in mills. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value.
And how much are these counties' residents expected to pay if the levy is approved? Not too much, it turns out. The taxable value is one-third of the assessed value of a house. On a home with a market value of $300,000 and an assessed value of $100,000, the taxable value is $33,333, so the tax increase on a two-mill levy would be $66.66 per year, or $5.56 per month.
The campus has already received outside funding, like a five-year grant from the ECMC Foundation -- a national organization working to improve postsecondary outcomes for students from underserved backgrounds.
"Knowing that we were going to be reintroducing a plumbers and pipe fitters program, I traveled last year to Los Angeles to meet with the ECMC Foundation and to share the vision for our work in El Rito," said Northern New Mexico College President Rick Bailey. "A few months ago, we were proud to announce a $750,000 grant from ECMC to help us establish the Plumbers and Pipefitters Center of Excellence on the campus."
If the mill-levy is approved, NNMC will offer an associate degree with a concentration in plumbing and pipe fitting and another in electrician technology. Partnerships with the Local 412 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union and the Local 611 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union helped Northern to design the curriculum for each program.
These will be mostly hands-on classes, but online and hybrid courses will be implemented, too. A new solar array is currently been built on campus -- a partnership with Kit Carson Electric and Guzman Energy. Part of the agreement with Kit Carson Electric involved its connecting its fiber optic internet network to the El Rito campus, which now has some of the fastest internet in the state.
"We will also be upgrading the facilities to embrace green energy technologies, including ground source heating and cooling, a biochar low-cost heating system and more," said Bailey.
El Rito campus began as the Spanish American Normal School, created in 1909 to train teachers. Its final class graduated in 1969. Two alumni shared their views about the proposed reopening.
"In the 1970s the Community Vocational School at the El Rito campus contributed to the economic well-being of Northern New Mexico by training norteños in various occupations: meatcutters, electricians, health care and clerical [workers], plumbers, beauticians, barbers and auto mechanics from other smaller communities," said Cam Martin, a third-generation El Rito resident and a 1962 graduate.
"Reopening the campus will again provide a much-needed economic boost, training adults and new generations to develop technical and entrepreneurial skills, as many did in the '70s. The location allows students to be closer to their communities, maintain their historical and cultural connections and continue their family traditions, rather than having to move to urban areas."
Martin worked with Taos County Social Services for 15 years and is presently the owner of Dwelling Revisited in Taos.
"In my opinion as an educator, this is an excellent opportunity to once again provide educational options in various fields: academic-based learning, traditional vocational skills and, equally important, career-technical training," said María Dolores Gonzales, a 1963 graduate, retired UNM professor and currently executive director of Bilingual Strategies Language Institute.
"This beautiful, serene campus offers students the prospect to engage enthusiastically in their learning experience by meeting and bonding with other students from the five school districts. This integration will enhance their intercommunication and leadership skills advancing connections for future collaboration in entrepreneurial projects. Let's train our own and keep them here in New Mexico."
Jake Arnold is the executive director of the advocacy group La Sociedad Venceslao Jaramillo, which has been instrumental in the reopening of El Rito campus. "Venceslao Jaramillo was a brilliant New Mexico senator as well as a respected merchant and stockman who donated the property for the campus," Arnold said. "And now we are returning to the original vision, which was [to have] a vocational technical school here."
The Spanish version of this story is here.
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