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Judge denies ConVal’s request to order the state to pay more for bussing costs

  • A ConVal School District bus. Benji Rosen

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/31/2019 5:49:46 PM
Modified: 7/31/2019 5:49:36 PM

Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff denied ConVal’s motion for reconsideration that asked him to order the state to pay the school district’s transportation costs for the coming school year, in a ruling released Friday.

“The Court held that the State’s current method of underfunding transportation was invalid but that it was not necessary to explicitly instruct the state to fund actual transportation costs as the State could choose to overfund nearly everyone by providing transportation funding at what it costs in the most expensive rural district,” ConVal’s attorney Michael Tierney said in an email Wednesday. “In particular, the Court states: ‘even with varying transportation costs in different school districts, it is not beyond question that the Legislature may fund transportation at a uniform, per-pupil rate that is so high that it would satisfy the transportation costs in a district with even the most expensive transportation costs. In such a case, transportation would be sufficiently (and overly) funded in every school district even without consideration of varying costs between them. In other words, the primary flaw of RSA 198:40-a, II(a)’s transportation funding was not its indiscriminate funding to school districts with varying transportation costs but rather its failure to accurately cost transportation, an issue that made the base adequacy aid insufficient for all school districts. The Court therefore did not reach the issue the Petitioners now highlight nor did it need to.’”

The original lawsuit filed by the ConVal School District on March 13 argued that the state does not fund a constitutionally adequate education. The Mascenic, Monadnock and Winchester school districts later joined in the legal fight.

The complaint said using the state’s own formula and the state’s own data, the state’s base adequacy funding falls far short of constitutionally sufficient funding for the children of the ConVal, Mascenic, Monadnock and Winchester school districts as well as throughout New Hampshire.

ConVal claimed in its March petition that the actual cost of an education, based on Department of Education data, is about $18,901 per student and asked the court to set the base adequacy amount at $9,929 per student for fiscal year 2020 and $10,843.60 for 2019.

While Ruoff said in his 98-page decision on June 5 that transportation costs, among other costs, are to be paid by the state per the state constitution. However, he only ordered that the state pay the school districts legal fees, which the state is also asking Ruoff to reconsider, and said it is the legislature’s job to fix the underfunding of education.

The legislature must solve this problem, Ruoff wrote in his June 5 decision.

June 12 the school districts filed a motion to reconsider of Ruoff’s decision, asking him to order the state to pay the school districts’ actual transportation costs for 2019/2020 to the tune of nearly $3 million.

Under the current funding formula rural schools suffer the most, the school districts are arguing, when it comes to getting adequate state funds to cover transportation costs per student to and from school.

The motion for reconsideration was asking the court to order the state to provide additional transportation funding for the 2019/2020 fiscal year of $1,225,582.40 for ConVal, $350,441.36 for Winchester, $1,111,042.74 for Monadnock and $299,283.79 for Mascenic for a total of  $2,986,350.29.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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