State: court erred in ConVal case

  • ConVal High School in Peterborough Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/15/2019 11:44:22 AM

The state is asking Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff to vacate his June 5 decision that agreed with a ConVal School District-led lawsuit that said the state is failing in its constitutional duty to fund an adequate education.

The state is also objecting to ConVal’s motion to Ruoff that he order the state to pay $1.2 million to ConVal for its 2019/2020 transportation costs.

“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 claiming the state is not adequately funding education.

Young also submitted, on June 24, an objection to ConVal’s June 12 motion for reconsideration that seeks a total of $3 million in bussing costs for ConVal and three other Monadnock Region school district’s who are also part of the lawsuit.

Young wrote in the state’s objection that Ruoff had already ruled in his June 5 decision that it is up to the legislature to ensure education is being adequately funded, not up to the court to determine the costs or to order the state to pay a certain amount.

“This Court reviewed the existing education funding case law and determined that the appropriate remedy was a declaration invalidating the current education funding mechanism as-applied to the petitioners and requesting that the Legislature to address the issue,” Young wrote in the state’s objection.

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.

Young made an argument against the school districts’ claim that $10,000 per student was adequate, in her objection, “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.’”

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.

Young argued in the objection that the exact cost of education had not been determined by the court or even thoroughly considered by the court and therefore should not be decided by the court.

“In short, there is no evidence in the record to show that no school in New Hampshire could function on $3,562.71 per student, there is no evidence in the record or indication in the case that the complete funding of a school is the sole responsibility of the State, and the respondents never conceded these points,” she wrote.

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 is 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 $2,986,350.29.4.

See our previous coverage:

ConVal and three other school districts ask court to order state to pay close to $3 million for transportation costs

Judge reaffirms Claremont I and II with ConVal decision

26 years after Claremont, ConVal sues for adequate funding

State requests that documents in ConVal lawsuit be stricken

Judge denies immediate relief in ConVal lawsuit, district can seek relief until June 30


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