The Valley News has been selected to add two journalists — a photojournalist and a climate and environment reporter — to our newsroom through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Three Upper Valley districts join fight

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2021 9:56:31 PM
Modified: 5/10/2021 9:56:32 PM

CLAREMONT — Three Upper Valley school districts plan to join a lawsuit challenging New Hampshire’s education funding system as part of a coalition that now stretches from Sullivan County to the Seacoast.

Claremont, Newport and Grantham will join seven other school districts that intend to argue state funding fails to meet students’ basic educational needs, according to Manchester attorney Michael Tierney, who represents the plaintiffs.

Tierney said Monday that other districts also are debating joining the suit, which was first filed in 2019, and could be named in future filings.

Those include the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, which is scheduled to discuss the matter next month, according to School Board Vice Chairman Tim Josephson.

“Personally, I think for a long time, the state has abdicated its responsibility for education funding,” Josephson, a former Democratic representative from Canaan, said in a phone interview.

“Combined with the downshifting that we have seen from Concord, I think these suits might be a step in the right direction,” he added. “Something needs to change.”

School officials in Newport and Grantham echoed Josephson’s sentiment, saying the state’s funding formula puts “an incredible burden” on local taxpayers, particularly those living in “property-poor” towns with lower home values.

That’s because money collected through the statewide property tax stays within municipal boundaries, meaning the excess from property-rich towns goes back to their local school district.

But in less fortunate communities, officials are forced to raise taxes to pay for shortfalls, said Newport Superintendent Brendan Minnihan.

“It creates such a tension between towns and schools in many locations that it’s just not great,” he said.

Also at issue is how much the state pays per student. The school funding lawsuit was filed in response to the roughly $3,600 per student that the state considers adequate, though other factors, such as special education and English-as-a-Second-Language, also come into play.

The adeuqacy grant does n’t cover the full cost of education, the plaintiffs argue, saying it should include transportation and the price of maintaining facilities.

In court documents, they said about $18,900 was required to fully educate a child during the 2017-18 school year.

Grantham Superintendent Sydney Leggett said the School Board opted to join the lawsuit because members feel there’s a lack of equity in the current school funding model. She added that residents are tired of yearly tax increases that aren’t being shared equally among the state’s school districts.

“It’s just becoming like a tipping point for what local taxpayers have to bear,” she said.

All of the officials said they expect the matter to be settled in court, rather than the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Messages left for Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, who leads the House Education Committee, and Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, who heads the Senate Education Committee were not returned Monday.

Ward’s district includes both Grantham and Newport.

The school funding suit — commonly known as the ConVal case after the lead plaintiff, the Contoocook Valley Regional School District — has already been heard by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which declined a request from the state’s attorneys’ to dismiss the case earlier this year.

However, the justices ruled that a full trial is needed to determine whether New Hampshire’s school funding request can be considered “adequate” as required by the state Constitution.

The addition of more school districts as plaintiffs could help bolster their case and “sends a message to everyone” that school funding is a statewide problem, said Concord attorney John Tobin, who represented Claremont during landmark school funding suits in the 1990s.

“It’s a huge problem, it’s a statewide problem and the fact that these other districts are signing up is just a measure of that,” he said.

Other districts participating in the lawsuit include the Monadnock, Mascenic and Winchester school districts. The Oyster River, Fall Mountain and Hillsboro-Deering school districts have asked to join as well.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2020 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy