PETERBOROUGH — The Contoocook Valley School District filed a lawsuit against the state on Wednesday, claiming the state is in violation of a Supreme Court decision on adequate funding.
“The ConVal School Board has not taken this step lightly, it is time for the State to fulfill its promise to our children and to bring relief to the local taxpayers,” said ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders in a statement released Wednesday.
Rich Cahoon, of Antrim, the vice chairman of the ConVal School Board, said the district, like many others in the state, is tired of waiting for New Hampshire’s government to follow the Supreme Court ruling.
“We are unwilling to keep waiting,” Cahoon said.
In 1997, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in what is known as the Claremont case that the state’s education funding system was unconstitutional and that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding to pay for public schools.
Claremont and other property-poor towns sued the state because they contended that using property taxes to pay for local education left poor towns with low property values at a near-constant financial disadvantage.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, was one of the lead attorneys in the Claremont lawsuit. While he and his Claremont lawsuit compatriots have no involvement with the ConVal lawsuit, he said the state is still failing to adhere to the Claremont decision.
“It’s our position that the state’s been out of compliance for 20 years,” he said.
The failure to adhere to the school funding ruling has been a bipartisan problem, as it stretches across both Republican and Democratic administrations, Volinsky said.
Gov. Chris Sununu said the lawsuit isn’t the way to solve New Hampshire’s funding problems.
“As history has shown, the only people who win in these lawsuits are the lawyers and the problem never gets solved,” Sununu said.
Sununu said his administration is working to increase local aid, and pointed to increased funding for school building projects and school safety investments.
While the state has been providing adequacy grants to districts, Cahoon said that that money is simply not enough. The state is paying $3,636 per pupil in adequacy grants now, and the figure is expected to go up to $3,700 in the coming school year. “Our per-pupil cost is around $18,000,” Cahoon said.
Rizzo Saunders said the grants don’t come close to addressing the many public school expenses that are pushed onto local taxpayers, such as transportation, food services, and funding for state and federal education mandates.
While the state Legislature is considering some education funding changes, those proposals do not address the real issue, which is the baseline adequacy, Rizzo Saunders said.
“The current proposed legislation does little to provide permanent, guaranteed adequacy and while it may provide temporary relief to some communities, it is not a permanent solution to an ongoing problem,” she said.