City Councilor's Miguel Chavez, Rebecca Wurzburger and Rosemary Romero are co-sponsors of a resolution to direct city staff to negotiate a deal to pay off the College of Santa Fe's debt and purchase the school. The plan was instigated by Mayor David Coss and, with three amendments, it passed the council's finance committee unanimously on April 20.
The resolution will now be heard at the April 29 City Council meeting, where Councilor Matthew Ortiz—chairman of the finance committee, expects it will again pass unanimously. That's when the hard work will start.
“All this does is authorize a negotiation,” Ortiz says. “That's it.” A wide array of issues could derail the process at any point. If the end result is the council convening to consider issuing a general revenue bond in excess of $35 million dollars—which is likely—that act will require a supermajority of the council: six out of eight votes.
Six councilors attended the April 20 finance meeting and all expressed their support for saving the College of Santa Fe (and its tenant, the Santa Fe Art Institute). However, among the amendments to the resolution was strict language that the net cost to the city be zero. At the same time the city considers issuing a bond, it will be negotiating with an entity to operate the school—and pay for the privilege. Although the College of Santa Fe has had recent flirtations with New Mexico Highlands University, University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University, those plans were scuttled when the state legislature declined to create a path that would enable state purchase of the private school.
The most likely candidate to step in at this point is Laureate Education, Inc., the for-profit global consortium of schools that left the college in the lurch last November. Mayor Coss told SFR that he has had initial contact with Laureate and has confirmed its willingness to come in as a lessee and operator. If a deal can be struck in which the lease amount that Laureate pays covers any bond obligation incurred by the City, the deal is likely to go through in the end.
But that's a big “if.” Among the current vagaries enumerated as issues by the finance committee were the as yet untallied amount of deferred maintenance (rumored to be between $5 and $20 million) at the CSF campus and to what extent the State of New Mexico and other entities may participate in the rescue or utilize campus space. At this point, emphasized Mayor Coss, it's easy to see a situation in which the pro-forma works out and it's easy to see the development of a financial gap that simply can't be bridged.
If the council approves the resolution on April 25, negotiations are expected to take 60 to 90 days. If the council agreed to issue a bond at that point, a minimum of an additional 60 days would be required before funds would be available. Coss says he hopes that any negotiations (with Laureate or otherwise) would result in a lessee ensuring that the College of Santa Fe be open for the start of the fall semester, in advance of the city funds being available.
Coss has been serving on a task force created by the Governor to consider all options for the fate of CSF. The task force is scheduled to complete a report of its own on April 30. Some members, including Santa Fe Community College president Sheila Ortego have cautioned that the city's rescue effort may be moving too fast.
“As far as I know, everyone else has the same news that I do: the College of Santa Fe is closing on May 22,” Coss says. “Just how much slower should we be moving?”