ConVal/Winchester seek $21 million from state at adequate education hearing

  • Cheshire Superior Court judge David Ruoff listens to attorney Michael Tierney, who is representing the ConVal and Winchester School Districts. Ruoff said Friday that he needed more time to issue an order.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Saunders and Winchester Superintendent Kenneth Dassau attend Friday’s hearing. The two school districts have filed a lawsuit requesting relief from the state.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • A hearing was held at the Cheshire Superior Court on Friday to discuss the ConVal and Winchester School Districts' petition injunctive relief from the state. Both districts have argued that the state needs to contribute more money to providing an adequate education for students. March 29, 2019. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • A hearing was held at the Cheshire Superior Court on Friday to discuss the ConVal and Winchester School Districts' petition injunctive relief from the state. Both districts have argued that the state needs to contribute more money to providing an adequate education for students. March 29, 2019. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • A hearing was held at the Cheshire Superior Court on Friday to discuss the ConVal and Winchester School Districts' petition injunctive relief from the state. Both districts have argued that the state needs to contribute more money to providing an adequate education for students. March 29, 2019. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/31/2019 2:20:16 PM

No decisions were made during Friday’s hearing about the ConVal and Winchester School Districts’ request for immediate monetary relief from the state.

The two school districts, represented by Michael J. Tierney of Wadleigh, Starr and Peters, PLLC, argued at the Cheshire Superior Court on Friday morning that the state has a constitutional obligation to pay an additional $17 million to ConVal and $4.5 million to Winchester for the 2018-19 school year to cover the cost of an adequate education. 

“The right to state funding is a fundamental right. This is not something that is just the grace of  the state to fund what they want,” Tierney said during the hearing. 

The ConVal School District filed a lawsuit on March 13, arguing that the state does not currently fund a constitutionally adequate education because its current funding formula for adequacy aid does not properly account for data like transportation, maintenance, and other costs associated with educating children. 

Court documents submitted by Tierney maintain that the state should provide $10,843.60 in base adequacy per student. Currently, the state only provides $3,606.36 per student.

The Winchester School District has since joined the lawsuit as a co-petitioner. The Monadnock Regional School District announced on March 19 that they would be joining the lawsuit, but have not yet become co-petitioners in the case, Tierney said. 

The lawsuit is asking for a short-term solution – in the form of the immediate relief requested during Friday’s hearing – and a long-term solution to the funding formula issue. 

Tierney said that the state is not accurately reflecting data it has collected in its own adequacy aid formula, which is creating the shortfall. Tierney said the lawsuit is not challenging the policy itself, but rather that the state needs to accurately reflect the cost to provide an adequate education. 

“It’s not a policy argument to say the state cannot ignore its own data,” Tierney said. 

Tierney also argued that the state currently requires that school districts have nurses and other costs that are currently not properly reflected in the current adequacy number. 

Attorney Dan Will, the state’s solicitor general, argued against that point, saying the state is currently providing funds for the cost of an adequate education under state law, and that many school districts end up raising more money for education because they go above and beyond what is considered adequate.

“At this moment in time there is no irreparable harm in the form of someone being deprived of an adequate education,” Will said. “In fact, your honor, students in the ConVal District are being provided the adequate education as the plaintiffs define it, not as the state defines it... which is augmented.”

Will also said that the state is not required to fund “ancillary costs” like transportation and food services because the current definition of an adequate education is specific to curriculum. 

Complying with the two school districts’ request would also place a large financial burden on the state, Will said, especially if the court ruled that all school districts throughout the state needed similar relief. Will said such a payment to all school districts would be around $1.3 billion. 

“As the legislature is working on finalizing the budget, your honor, that $21 million would have a significant impact,” Will said, referring to the cost of ConVal and Winchester’s request.

After more than an hour and a half of testimony, Judge David Ruoff said he would take everything he heard under advisement and try to get an order out by April 1, the date that the final adequacy payment for the 2018-19 school year is due.  

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. 


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