Troy seeks to disqualify change in Monadnock school district funding formula

Troy seeks to disqualify change in Monadnock school district funding formula

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2013 12:00 pm

SWANZEY CENTER — After Troy’s annual payment to the Monadnock Regional School District spiked from a change in the district’s funding formula, selectmen are trying to get the state to rule that the formula was illegally approved.

Troy selectmen have filed a petition with the N.H. Department of Education asking it to overrule voters’ approval of a petition warrant article at the school district’s annual meeting in March.

Troy says the school board failed to recommend the article, and that violates state law.

The article sought to change the formula used to calculate the amount each town pays the district annually, to be based on 75 percent student enrollment and 25 percent town property valuation. At the time, the formula was based on 50 percent student enrollment and 50 percent town property valuation.

Voters passed the article 1,170 to 708, and the new 75/25 formula went into effect July 1.

The Department of Education later certified the vote, saying on July 18 the change in the formula was “lawfully adopted.”

Petition articles must be put on an annual meeting warrant, according to state law.

Besides Troy, Monadnock covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury and Swanzey.

N.H. Education Commissioner Virginia M. Barry is expected to present Troy’s petition to the state Board of Education at its meeting today, after the state agency received the petition Nov. 1. The meeting is being held at Monadnock Regional Middle/High School in Swanzey Center.

The board is then expected to request a legal opinion on the matter from the N.H. Attorney General’s Office, according to the meeting agenda.

Assistant Attorney General Patrick J. Queenan said Wednesday once the board requests the legal opinion, his office will look into whether the Department of Education has the authority to issue Troy’s request for relief.

The board has 20 working days to respond to the petition after receiving an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, according to state law.

In the petition, Troy selectmen argue the warrant article to change the funding formula doesn’t comply with state law.

According to the law, the portion each member town of a cooperative school district pays can either be based on 100 percent property valuation or 50 percent valuation and 50 percent student enrollment. Any other formula would have to be recommended by the school board, the law states.

The board decided to take no action on the warrant article at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The warrant article was submitted by then-school board member Mark Funk of Roxbury with the required 25 signatures of registered school district voters.

In January, he said he filed the petition article because he and other town officials were concerned about the toll Monadnock’s funding formula could have on Roxbury’s tax rate in the future. At the time, the town paid Monadnock $500,123 for 20 students to attend schools in the district in 2012-13, according to budget information from the N.H. Department of Education. As a result, the town had one of the highest per-student costs.

Troy, which paid $3.87 million for 309 students, had one of the lowest per-student rates.

State aid covered some of the costs for each of the towns.

Going with the 75/25 split would shrink the disparity in the average cost per student among Monadnock’s member towns, Funk said in January.

William T. Matson, a Troy selectmen, said Wednesday the town’s monthly payment to Monadnock has increased by more than $80,000 since the formula changed. That change is difficult for Troy to absorb, especially since voters approved a town budget in March that didn’t account for a change in the school funding formula, he said.

The change in the formula caused Troy’s apportionment to the school district for operation and capital expenditures to increase $635,821 — from about $3.96 million in fiscal year 2013 to approximately $4.6 million in fiscal year 2014. Divided by 12 months in the year, the town is paying $52,985 more per month to Monadnock than it was paying last year before state aid.

Fitzwilliam, Richmond and Roxbury saw their payments to Monadnock drop over the same time period. Fitzwilliam is now paying $460,676 less to the school district, while Richmond’s apportionment is down $1,445 and Roxbury’s has decreased $17,031.

Besides Troy, the apportionments for Gilsum and Swanzey also increased. Gilsum’s portion has gone up $147,792 since fiscal year 2013, while Swanzey’s has risen by $699,334.

Matson attributed the delay between the vote in March and the petition in November to Troy’s selectmen needing to consider what action to take after the formula kicked in.

“We first had to get a grasp of the situation, do the proper background research, and then reach out to counsel,” he said.

He added the selectmen also believed the Monadnock Regional School Board would address the concern over the legality of the warrant article, but there was no action.

Meanwhile, the setting of tax rates in Monadnock’s six member towns was delayed this month because of Troy’s petition, according to district and town officials.

The matter is being resolved, said Stephan W. Hamilton, director of the municipal and property division of the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration, on Wednesday.

“As of today, we have set four tax rates for the towns in this district, and are in the final stages of setting the others,” he said.

The four towns were Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond and Swanzey.

The vote in March wasn’t the first time attempts have been made to change the formula towns follow for paying the Monadnock Regional School District.

In March 2003, school district voters approved a petition warrant article originating in Troy to change the formula to the 50/50 split. Before that year, the formula was based solely on student population. It’s unclear if the school board took a position on the warrant article that year.

In March 1995, voters approved a warrant article to change the formula to be based 75 percent on student enrollment and 25 percent on town property valuation. The article, which would have taken effect in fiscal year 1996-97, is nearly identical to the one voters approved in March 2013.

However, before the N.H. Department of Education could certify the vote, a special school district meeting was held in October to reverse the March approval after controversy erupted about it. Voters at the October meeting voted against enacting the formula, essentially rescinding the March vote.