2019, the year ConVal sued the state over adequacy aid

  • ConVal High School in Peterborough. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/26/2019 5:28:36 PM

In March, fed up with rising costs, unfunded state-mandates and overburdened property taxpayers, the ConVal School District took legal action against the state in an attempt to find a permanent solution to state’s unconstitutional underfunding of an adequate education.

“We feel that taxpayers are getting overburdened. … We felt it was necessary to be supportive of the taxpayers and to make sure children get an adequate education,” then ConVal School Board Chairman Myron Steere said.

The state currently sets the base adequacy aid for all schools at $3,562.71 per student. The state’s number is based on a formula determined by a legislative committee, 11 years ago, in 2008.

ConVal claimed in its petition that the actual cost of an education, based on Department of Education own 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.

ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Saunders said the board had been questioning the cost of an adequate education for years and its time for the state to make good on the 26-year-old Claremont decision in which the state’s Supreme Court determined that it’s the state’s obligation to ensure that children in the state have a constitutionally adequate education.

The original lawsuit filed by the ConVal School District on March 13 that argued the state does not fund a constitutionally adequate education quickly drew support from other New Hampshire school districts, with several in the Monadnock Region – the Mascenic, Monadnock and Winchester school districts – joining the legal fight.

The school district won in court at the Superior Court level in Keene in June.

Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff said in his 98-page decision that transportation costs, among other costs, are to be paid by the state per the state constitution. And while he ordered the state to pay the school district’s legal fees Ruoff said it is the legislature’s job to fix the underfunding of education.

In response, the state filed an objection to the decision and asked Ruoff to reconsider and vacate his June decision that agreed with ConVal that said the state is failing in its constitutional duty to fund an adequate education.

“The Court erred by suggesting that any amount funded by the State must ‘strictly align’ with the definition of ‘adequate education’ in order to pass constitutional muster,” New Hampshire Deputy Attorney General Jane E. Young wrote in the June 20 motion for reconsideration of Ruoff’s June 5 decision.

Young submitted the motion on behalf of the Department of Education, Gov. Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, all of which are named in ConVal School District’s lawsuit.

Young also made an argument in court documents against the school districts’ claim that $10,000 per student was adequate, “The State is not constitutionally obligated to fund the entire operations of every school in the State; it is obligated to fund an ‘adequate education,’ which the New Hampshire Supreme Court has identified solely as the substantive ‘educational program.’”

When the Superior Court decision stood, the state filed an appeal in the NH Supreme Court where the matter is still pending.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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