N.H. Supreme Court rules against Troy in school funding lawsuit

N.H. Supreme Court rules against Troy in school funding lawsuit

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Saturday, January 24, 2015 8:00 am

The town of Troy has used up one of the two challenges it’s filed with the N.H. Supreme Court to reverse the outcome of a 2013 vote to change the funding formula towns follow when paying the Monadnock Regional School District.

The high court ruled Wednesday that the N.H. Board of Education was correct when it decided in November 2013 not to grant a declaratory judgment in Troy’s petition because the state board lacked jurisdiction. The petition asked the state board to overturn a school district vote from March 2013 to change the funding formula.

Troy officials have a second appeal about the matter pending before the Supreme Court. The defendant in that lawsuit is the Monadnock Regional School District.

The 2013 vote took place during the Monadnock Regional School District’s annual meeting, and resulted in voters approving a petition warrant article to change the school funding formula to be based on 75 percent student enrollment and 25 percent town property valuation.

The article passed by a district-wide vote of 1,170 to 708.

Previously, the formula had been calculated on 50 percent student enrollment and 50 percent town property values.

The new funding formula took effect July 1, 2013, and caused Troy’s payments to Monadnock to increase 16.1 percent, from about $3.96 million in 2012-13 to roughly $4.6 million in 2013-14.

The increase was the largest change any of Monadnock’s member towns experienced from the formula shift. Besides Troy, the district includes Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury and Swanzey,

William T. “Tom” Matson, chairman of the Troy selectmen, said Friday he was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the five justices based their decision on the timeliness of the town’s filing, and not the point of law that town officials said was violated.

Troy’s attorney, Silas B. Little 3rd of Peterborough, argued before the Supreme Court on Nov. 13, 2014 that the formula voters approved in 2013 didn’t comply with state law because it didn’t have the backing of the Monadnock school board.

According to the law, the portion each town pays to a cooperative school district can be based on either 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.

Monadnock’s attorney, James A. O’Shaughnessy of Manchester, noted later in the hearing that the school board had taken no position on the petition warrant article.

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the town of Troy didn’t demonstrate “reversible error” based on the N.H. Board of Education’s order, the town’s challenge to it and the record submitted as part of the appeal.

Troy officials filed a petition with the N.H. Board of Education to overturn the formula more than seven months after the Monadnock school district’s annual meeting, and after the state board’s July 2013 meeting where it certified the vote approving the apportionment formula, the ruling said.

In addition, the Monadnock school board discussed the petition article as early as January 2013, board members approved the article on Feb. 9, 2013, and the N.H. Board of Education approved the proposed language for the article on Feb. 20 of that year, according to the ruling.

“Given the public nature of the proceedings, the town had notice of the proposed article before the school district voted to revise the apportionment formula, and notice of the school district’s actions in approving the article,” the ruling said.

The town’s litigation against the N.H. Board of Education and the Monadnock Regional School District has cost Troy a “couple thousand dollars,” Matson said. He didn’t have an exact amount, but he recalls one of the invoices the town received being about $8,000, he said.

The lawsuit against Monadnock cost the school district $10,738.25 in the 2013-14 school year, and $2,725.50 in the 2014-15 school year, according to figures from the school district’s business office. The high court has yet to hear arguments in the suit Troy brought against the district.

The suit against Monadnock began in Cheshire County Superior Court before Troy appealed it to the N.H. Supreme Court. At the time, the towns of Swanzey and Roxbury were intervenors in the case. Swanzey, whose apportionment increased under the school funding formula change, sided with Troy, and Roxbury, where the petition warrant article originated, sided with Monadnock.

Neither town stayed with the case when it moved on to the Supreme Court.