Judge dismisses Troy lawsuit

Judge dismisses Troy lawsuit against Monadnock Regional School District

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Saturday, April 5, 2014 8:00 am

A Cheshire County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit from the town of Troy seeking to overturn the funding formula used by communities to determine how much they owe the Monadnock Regional School District.

Judge John C. Kissinger Jr. issued an order Wednesday granting a motion to dismiss the case. The motion was filed by the Monadnock district and the town of Roxbury, which was an intervenor in the case on the side of the school district.

Besides Roxbury and Troy, Monadnock’s member towns are Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond and Swanzey.

In December, Troy filed the lawsuit against Monadnock, saying a petition warrant article voters approved at the school district’s annual meeting in March 2013 didn’t comply with state law because it wasn’t recommended or backed by the Monadnock Regional School Board.

The warrant article, which voters approved 1,170 to 708, sought to change the funding formula to be based on 75 percent student enrollment and 25 percent town property valuation. The change took effect July 1, 2013.

Before then, the formula was based on 50 percent student enrollment and 50 percent town property valuation.

Troy and Swanzey were the only towns to vote against the formula change.

Swanzey was granted intervenor status in the lawsuit, and subsequently sided with Troy.

According to state law, the portion each town pays to a cooperative school district can be based either on 100 percent property valuation, or 50 percent valuation and 50 percent student enrollment. The school board would have to recommend any other formula, the law states.

The Monadnock school board didn’t back the warrant article, voting in January 2013 to take no action on it.

The formula change caused Troy’s payment to Monadnock to increase by 16.1 percent, and contributed to a 76.5 percent rise in the education portion of its tax rate, from $11.51 per $1,000 assessed valuation in 2012 to $20.32 in 2013.

William T. Matson, chairman of the Troy Board of Selectmen, said Friday afternoon he couldn’t comment on the dismissal of the court case saying he hadn’t been notified about it by the town’s attorney.

Monadnock officials were also unaware Friday of the ruling.

Troy selectmen filed the lawsuit on behalf of the town after they sought help from the N.H. Department of Education, the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration and the N.H. Executive Council late last year.

In November 2013, Troy selectmen filed a petition with the state Department of Education asking it to overrule voter approval of the school funding formula change.

After Monadnock voters passed the petition warrant article allowing the change, the Department of Education certified the vote in July 2013, saying the 75/25 split was “lawfully adopted.”

The state agency, through the N.H. Board of Education, also gave the go-ahead in February 2013 for the article to appear on the warrant at the school district’s annual meeting the following month.

The Department of Education declined in late November to rule on Troy’s petition, saying it didn’t have the authority to do so.

Around the same time, Troy selectmen submitted an application for assistance to N.H. Gov. Maggie Hassan and the state Executive Council, requesting a loan for $953,668 to pay the town’s expenses through Jan. 31, 2014.

The Executive Council ruled in early December not to accept the town’s application.

Troy selectmen also appealed the town’s 2013 tax rate of $36.26 per $1,000 assessed valuation to the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration.

The state agency in December upheld the town’s 2013 tax rate, which was an increase of about $10, or 26 percent, from the 2012 tax rate of $26.77.

In the order dismissing the case, Kissinger wrote his decision was based on Troy failing to “exhaust its administrative remedies,” and not filing the lawsuit in a timely fashion. Troy had opportunities to challenge the school funding formula change following the March 2013 school district meeting vote and the Department of Education’s February and July 2013 decision about the petition warrant article, Kissinger wrote.

Both Troy and Swanzey were aware of the warrant article, and the fact it would change the school funding formula, he wrote.

“However, while there was ample opportunity to do so, at no point did (Troy) or Swanzey raise any objection to the procedure by which Article 7 passed,” he said.

Troy also “failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” Kissinger wrote.