Second election likely in Aztec Municipal School District

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AZTEC — Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said it is devastating that voters did not approve a 2-mill levy that would have funded maintenance and technology purchases at the schools.

The 2-mill levy, which was a slight increase of the existing 1.87 mill, failed on a 1,992 to 1,201 vote, according to numbers provided by the San Juan County Clerk.

Aztec is one of two local school districts that will face reduced funding as a result of Tuesday’s special elections. A measure to extend an existing 2-mill levy failed by 70 votes in Bloomfield while the same measure passed by more than 1,500 votes in Central Consolidated School District.

The measure would have caused a slight property tax increase in Aztec, but property tax would have remained the same in both Bloomfield and CCSD.

“It’s a sad day and it’s disappointing,” Carpenter said when reached by phone this morning.

RELATED: What to know about the Feb. 5 school district elections

Maintenance takes a hit in Bloomfield

His sentiment was echoed by Bloomfield superintendent Kim Mizell.

“It’s a sad day in Bloomfield,” she said.

Bloomfield School District has a list of repairs it needed for buildings that will no longer be funded after voters chose not to extend a 2-mill levy.

Superintendent Kim Mizell said that 2-mill levy generates $1.5 million for the school district each year. The mills are approved every six years.

“We had plans for this money and now we’re not going to be able to do it,” Mizell said.

The school district was going to use the money to replace its intercom system so the schools can communicate with emergency responders.

The mill funding would have helped with building repairs as well.

“These buildings are old,” Mizell said. “They’re getting older.”

Mizell said there is a big crack in the wall of the wrestling room in a Bloomfield High School gym that will need to be fixed, and the district needs to purchase new air conditioning units for schools.

Cutbacks in Aztec

Carpenter said without the mill funding, the Aztec Municipal School District will have to make cuts to programs, staff or activities.

“This money is not something that is extra,” Carpenter said

He said it pays for things like desks, microscopes, cleaning supplies and toilet paper.

“It’s not for frilly things,” he said.

Carpenter said the school district will likely have another special election like it did six years ago when faced with the same situation. If it has a special election, it will likely ask for a slightly lower mill rate. Carpenter said the district may ask voters to approve continuing the existing 1.87 mill.

MORE: Local school officials say mill funding is crucial to operations

“We’re in the business of serving kids and this money does that,” Carpenter said.

This was the first time the county had a mail-only election, and Carpenter said that made a difference.

“We had better voter turnout,” Carpenter said.

About 29 percent of the more than 11,000 ballots mailed to Aztec area voters were returned.

When the measure failed six years earlier, only 6 percent of the registered voters cast ballots. The lower mill was passed by 12 percent of the registered voters in 2013.

MORE: Voters approve change to school technology levy

If the school district chooses to have a second election, ballots will once again be mailed to all the registered voters within the district boundaries.

Mizell expressed concerns that confusion about how to cast a ballot could have led to the measure failing by a narrow margin in Bloomfield.

"There were a lot of steps," she said.

The ballot had to be placed in an envelope that would then be put in another envelope. And voters had to remember to sign the inner envelope.

The measure passed 2,682 to 1,073 in CCSD and failed 1,006 to 1,076 in Bloomfield, according to numbers from the county clerk.

CCSD says 'thanks'

CCSD officials thanked the voters for their support today.

"We are excited, very excited, about the outcome of the election," Interim Superintendent Terri Benn said.

By retaining the mill levy, the district knows there will be funding to support the operation and maintenance of school facilities, Benn said.

The district operates 17 schools that range in age in Kirtland, Naschitti, Newcomb, Ojo Amarillo and Shiprock.

Kyle Archibeque, director of finance for the district, said funding from the mill levy generates approximately $3 million each year.

Candice Thompson, the district's director of operations, reiterated that the amount is used only for building upkeep and repair, maintenance of athletic fields and for supplies to complete that type of work.

"We can't thank our supporters enough," Thompson said.

Reporter Noel Lyn Smith contributed to this report.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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