School funding lawsuit “urgently needed,” says Claremont attorney

Cuts in state aid and an over-reliance on local property taxes are creating a troubled system, says the lead attorney in the Claremont case.

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Attorney John Tobin, one of the lawyers who argued the landmark Claremont case, is urging others to join in a school funding lawsuit. That case, argued in 1992, ruled that the state has a constitutional responsibility to provide an “adequate education” to all students. But, Tobin says that the state’s over-reliance on local property taxes creates an inequitable education system in the state.

From the Valley News:

The consequences, the piece says, are perennial budget crises in certain towns and deeply unequal and untenable property tax rates. It compares property-poor communities like Claremont, with a tax rate of $24.20 per $1,000 in assessed value, to property-wealthy towns like Rye, which has a tax rate of $6.20 despite spending thousands more per student…

“I think it needs to be done. I think it’s just a question of can we put together the people and the resources to do it,” he said. “I know I can’t do it myself from my kitchen counter.”

 

Tobin has at least one recruit: Tom Connair, a Claremont-based attorney who was Claremont’s school board chairman when the district first sued the state.

But he, too, emphasized the need for more help.

“We’re hoping for some renewed energy and maybe some younger blood to carry the torch, but I think there is growing interest in the towns,” he said.

Meanwhile, certain property-poor towns have started having tentative discussions about a lawsuit, including in Claremont, which served as the lead plaintiff in a succession of state Supreme Court cases between the 1990s and the 2000s.

Middleton McGoodwin, the superintendent in the Claremont school district, responded to a request for comment by sending a reporter a PowerPoint outlining a slew of personnel, technology, athletics, and supply cuts the district needed to make next year, totaling nearly $1.7 million, in order to hold the line on taxes.

“In truth, today, in NH, a child’s zip code determines their educational opportunities,” McGoodwin said. “There is a very clear need, or appetite in Claremont, and similar communities, for the type of suit John Tobin is considering.”

Discussions about a suit also are happening on the Franklin City Council, where the high school recently was put on warning by its accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, specifically because of funding cuts…

Property-poor towns recently mounted a failed legislative campaign to freeze cuts to stabilization grants, a roughly $150 million program that in particular buoys the state’s poorest school districts. The program is being phased out at a rate of 4 percent each year.

Cuts to stabilization, the decades-long moratorium on school building aid, and reductions in state reimbursements for things like special education are all compounding to create a growing sense of frustration in towns about rising property taxes, said Carl Ladd, the executive director of the state’s administrators association.

“At some point, something’s gotta give. And I’m just not sure what that is,” he said.

There hasn’t been a unifying call thus far for a lawsuit, he said, and towns have been holding out for a legislative fix. That’s because litigation is expensive, Ladd said — and divisive.

“It really points out kind of the haves and the have-nots. And that makes people very uncomfortable. And so I think people shy away from that until there’s absolutely no other choice,” he said.

Learn more about the school funding formula in the state, its effect on student outcomes, and more:

Source: N.H. Lawyers Call for New Ed Lawsuit | Valley News