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RISD prepares for February special election

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Mona Kirk (center), school board president, encourages voters to send in their mail-in ballots for a special election for the Roswell Independent School District at the Oct. 9 school board meeting. From left, Brian Byrd, RISD assistant superintendent of human resources; Kirk; Alan Gedde, school board secretary; and Ruben Sanchez, school board vice president, sit at the dais and listen to Kirk. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The Roswell Independent School District’s (RISD) school board unanimously approved a resolution and proclamation for a special election to be held for local voters to consider approval of general obligation (GO) bonds and continuing Public School Capital Improvements Act tax, also known as the 2 mills or Senate Bill 9 (SB-9).

If approved by local voters, the RISD board-book packet stated that the district will be “authorized to issue up to $14 million of general obligation bonds” for the purpose of improvements to school buildings and school grounds, computer software and hardware purchases for students, to allow the district to provide matching funds for capital outlay projects in compliance with the Public School Capital Outlay Act, or any combination of these purposes as listed.

This RISD special election, with a mail-in only ballot, will take place on Feb. 5 and is different from the four bond questions that will be included on the General Election (Nov. 6) ballot for voters’ consideration for approximately $11.56 million in funding to be applied to higher education and library improvements. In the RISD board-book packet, the Feb. 5 special election documents listed two questions, one for the $14 million GO bond and the other for the continuation to “impose a property tax of $2 per each $1,000 of net taxable value of property allocated” to RISD from 2019 through 2024.

Chad Cole, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, explained this special election to the school board members on Oct. 9 and Cole also said questions on the ballot will include Sidney Gutierrez Middle School, the local charter school. If not awarded to RISD, Cole said the GO funds tend to be awarded to schools in Albuquerque and/or Santa Fe; Cole continued to say if the funding was not awarded to RISD, the district would view this as a cut to the day-to-day operational fund.

Cole said RISD employees, including Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy, cannot campaign for the special bond election by encouraging people to get out and vote, but can encourage voter registration and returning of ballots. In addition, Cole said the district can inform voters on facts about how the funds have been spent and how they are intended to be used in the future.

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Superintendent Dr. McIlroy was absent from the Oct. 9 meeting and Brian Bryd, RISD assistant superintendent of human resources, took on her role during the meeting. Byrd shared his recommendation to approve the proclamation and resolution of the special election. Board member James Edwards was absent from the meeting and excused from the vote. Ruben Sanchez, school board vice president, made the motion; Dr. Kathleen Pittman, board member, seconded Sanchez’s motion and with a roll call vote, all of the present members voted unanimously.

After explaining the GO bonds, Cole said the local component of the 2 mills (called SB-9 at the state level) must be passed at the county level before the SB-9 of the state’s fund-matching component is applied. Cole clarified and emphasized that the funds from the 2 mills and the GO bonds cannot be used for the district’s salaries and benefits.

Board President Mona Kirk said, if the bond is approved, taxes will not be raised but is a continuation of the previous bond cycle.  Kirk said it is “extremely important” for neighborhood schools surrounding populations to mail back ballots. Additionally, Kirk stressed the importance for voters to return the ballot through the mail after casting their votes, since there is not a polling place to collect the ballots. However, Cole said the state was asked to consider a drop-off ballot location, on which there is no decision at this time.

For the special election, Cole said the passing of the 2018 Local Election Act, House Bill 98, had unintended consequences where the state tax code and collection of taxes does not align to the new law. However, Cole said RISD’s February election will stay aligned with existing tax code.

Earlier in the month, RISD released a press release that Mesa Middle School and Nancy Lopez Elementary school will be renovated with prior GO bond funding. Cole also said Del Norte Elementary School has also benefited from GO bond funding. He also said the design phase of Del Norte is nearing completion and requesting proposal to bid for construction near December or January.

For some history, Cole said the district has 20 school facilities (21 schools including Early College High School) and of the 20 facilities, Cole said 13 middle and elementary schools have received “brand new construction or total renovation” in the last 13 years on time and on budget. Cole said the condition of the districts’ facilities range from “beautiful, new and renovated” to a few older facilities, some of them older than 50 or 60 years, and GO bond funding would continue to fund renovations and construction in RISD schools. Mountain View Middle School and Washington Avenue Elementary School are on the district’s list and after these are done the district will look to the high schools, Cole said.

Cole said the district wants to update those schools and said the 2 mills is the “critical piece” for the district from a financial standpoint, though he did not want to discount the GO bonds.

Cole said attorneys and counties are scrambling to figure out what will need to be done for the special election. At this time, Cole said the district is working with Chaves County and a bond attorney to see how the misalignment of the existing tax code will apply to this election. Kirk said New Mexico School Board Association (NMSBA) is supporting a resolution to modify the bill during the upcoming 60-day legislative session and can be seen on their website (nmsba.org/category/legislative/).

Vice President Ruben Sanchez asked about the district’s outreach plan for the special election. In response, Cole said district resources cannot be used to campaign for the special election, but the campaign group can build a website and promote the election. Now that the proclamation and resolution have passed, Cole said the county and district will work together to prepare for the election in February.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.