N.H. School Funding Is Up For Discussion

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 8/5/2018 10:55:31 PM
Modified: 8/5/2018 11:54:27 PM

Newport — A public forum on the current status of education funding in New Hampshire and its continued heavy reliance on property taxes will be led next week by the former lead attorney in the Claremont lawsuit.

Andru Volinsky, currently an executive councilor, and John Tobin, an attorney, will lead the discussion at 6 p.m. on Aug. 14 Newport’s Richards Elementary School.

Newport is expected to be joined at the forum by school boards from Claremont, Unity and the Fall Mountain Regional School District.

“Our goal is to help educate the public on how education funding in New Hampshire works and who the system advantages and disadvantages,” said Volinsky, a Manchester attorney. “We hope when people understand the system, they will take appropriate action with their legislators in the upcoming election and urge them to design a more equitable system.”

In the second of two decisions on the lawsuit, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the state’s system to pay for K-12 education was unconstitutional and ordered the Legislature to come up with the cost of an adequate education with taxes that are equal across the state. Twenty-one years later, the issue has not been resolved and Volinsky said in April another lawsuit is needed. Volinsky said last week that the state’s adequacy aid figure of $3,600 per student is “grossly underestimated.”

He said many property poor school districts are on the financial edge and now have to accept a 4 percent cut in the stabilization grant each year until the money runs out in about 20 years.

“In 2012, adequacy aid was recast as stabilization funding and now that funding is being taken away,” Volinsky said.

Tobin also was an attorney for the plaintiffs — Claremont and four other towns — in the lawsuit against the state that was initiated around 1990.

Volinsky said the “donor town vs. property poor town divide fostered by other governors has been shortsighted” and the approach has “come home to roost” in the problem seen today with education funding.

When asked what he has heard from those towns with high property values, Volinsky said he spoke in April to officials in Moultonborough, a town on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee and got a reaction that recognizes the current system is unfair and failing students.

“There was a sense among the group we are all in this together,” Volinsky said. “There was a general understanding the selfish approach does not work and that if we don’t have a strong education system we can’t attract young people to work in New Hampshire or have qualified older people.”

Volinsky said they also have forums planned for Derry and Berlin and hope to schedule about another six in communities across the state. Ultimately, he hopes a new suit will be filed but when and how that might happened still is to be determined.

As an elected official, Volinsky said he would not represent the plaintiffs in any legal action.

“As with any democracy, the impetus for change comes from the bottom up so we want people to understand what is happening and to hold their elected officials accountable,” Volinsky said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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