To VoteAZTEC — In an effort to avoid an approximately 5 percent deficit in its budget, the Aztec Municipal School District will put the continuation of its capital improvements tax to the voters on Tuesday.
Voting on whether to pass the 2 mill levy tax will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Aztec Municipal School District Administration Building, 1118 W. Aztec Blvd.
The election comes on heels of a Feb. 5 defeat, when Aztec residents voted down an increase of a little more than 11 cents, from $1.886 per $1,000 of net taxable property value to $2.
The upcoming election won't result in an increase in taxes. It seeks to continue the tax for the next six years.
The 2 mill levy, first passed in the 1930s, helps fund the day-to-day operations of the school district Maintenance and technology departments receive the majority of their budgets from the tax.
During a town hall meeting Thursday evening at the Aztec Community Center, about 40 residents gathered to ask questions about the mill levy and how it affects the community.
Longtime Aztec resident Shirley Sandoval said she voted against the tax the first time and voted against it again during early voting.
"We are taxed to death. (President Barack) Obama is going to raise our taxes. State is going to raise our taxes. Municipals are going to raise our taxes.
The county keeps raising our taxes. It's time to stop," Sandoval said. "They don't need all this technology, especially in the younger grades. They need to learn to read, write and arithmetic with pencil and paper."
Laurel Dillard operates an interactive whiteboard using a pad as she teaches algebra at Aztec High School on Friday. Technology allows teachers mobility in their classroom. The technology helps the teachers work one on one with students who need help figuring out class work. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)
Before the meeting started, Aztec resident Jocelyn Magee said while times are hard for property owners and taxpayers, education should not be thrown under the bus.
"Whether it raises taxes or not is beside the point," Magee said. "Kids have been supported in Aztec for years and years and years, as long as they've had the mill levy. I don't see why we should stop now."
The district has collected about $1 million from the 2 mill levy during the current school year.
That's the lowest amount since the 2008-2009 school year when the district received about $2.9 million, said the district's director of finance Ryan Manning.
If the 2 mill levy is not approved by the voters, superintendent Kirk Carpenter said the district has about a year's worth of cash balance to cover the deficit.
Manning said there are talks at the district level about which programs or personnel would be cut to overcome the deficit.
"If it were to be voted down again, then we're going to have to? make up for those funds from the operations fund, and that's already strained," Manning said. "When we look at cutting this much money from our operations budget, it takes a lot of work to make sure we don't affect the classroom as much as possible."
Nearly all 89 school districts in the state currently use a 2 mill levy to help fund gaps in school budgets. Right now, 85 of the 89 school districts in the state have passed 2 mill levy taxes, said Hipolito Aguilar, the deputy secretary of finance and operations for the State of New Mexico Public Education Department.
Only four — Reserve Independent School District, Los Alamos Public Schools, Carlsbad Municipal School District and Española Public Schools — do not currently have 2 mill levies in place.
Aguilar said that statewide, the 2 mill levy tax generates about $100 million annually for the 85 school districts.
"The dollars are made on the land valuation," Aguilar said. "A 2 mill for Albuquerque generates more money because they have more land value. Zuni has no land value, so it generates a few bucks. It's all based on local wealth, the value of your land."
Sandy Heuser, who has two grandchildren in the Aztec school district, said she was frustrated with the tax falling on the shoulders of the property owners.
"I think the law needs to change how they fund the schools. They can't keep relying on the property owners," Heuser said. "The people who have the children attending the schools need to pay. If that has to happen at the state level, that's where we need to start."
Joshua Kellogg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 564-4627. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.