Troy taking school funding disagreement to N.H. Supreme Court

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 

SWANZEY CENTER — Troy’s dispute over its school district’s funding formula could go to the N.H. Supreme Court — twice.

Troy officials sued the Monadnock Regional School District late last year, saying the new formula towns follow to determine how much the town owes the district was approved illegally.

At about the same time, town officials were pleading their case to the N.H. Board of Education, asking it to overrule voter approval of the formula change at the school district’s annual meeting in March 2013.

Neither the lawsuit, nor its request to the state board went in Troy’s favor, and requests to reconsider the decisions were denied.

The first of those denials came earlier this year from the state Board of Education. Troy officials have already appealed that decision to the N.H. Supreme Court, which accepted the case last month.

On Tuesday, Troy selectmen Chairman William T. Matson said his board plans to also take the lawsuit against the Monadnock school district to the state’s highest court.

“We’re not stopping until it’s recognized the law was misapplied,” he said Tuesday.

According to the 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 majority of voters at the Monadnock’s annual meeting in March 2013 approved changing the funding formula from 50-50, to 75 percent student enrollment and 25 percent town property valuation.

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

In the meantime, N.H. Board of Education certified the vote as being lawfully adopted in July 2013. In February of that year, the board OK’d the petition warrant to appear on the school district ballot.

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

Of those towns, the majority of ballots cast in Troy and Swanzey were against the warrant article.

The dispute has become an example of the funding and ideological challenges faced by school districts in the state, especially Monadnock.

Monadnock school officials say they need to lower the cost of education while improving the quality of it, but say they need the help of the state Legislature to do it.

The funding formula change, which took effect July 1, 2013, caused Troy’s payments to Monadnock to increase by $635,821, or 16.1 percent, from about $3.96 million in 2012-13 to roughly $4.6 million in 2013-14.

If the formula had remained a 50/50 split, Troy’s payments would have increase over the same time period by $229,625, or 5.8 percent.

The change in the formula also contributed to the town’s 2013 tax rate of $36.26 per $1,000 assessed valuation increasing by about $10, or 26 percent, from the 2012 tax rate of $26.77.

In December, Troy officials filed the lawsuit against Monadnock in Cheshire County Superior Court, and on April 2, Judge John C. Kissinger Jr. dismissed the case.

Town officials had filed a motion for reconsideration on April 14, which was denied on April 28.

In his ruling to dismiss the case, Kissinger wrote Troy officials failed to “exhaust (their) administrative remedies,” and didn’t file the lawsuit in a timely fashion.

With the case likely going to the N.H. Supreme Court, it’s unclear at this time what the case’s two intervenors, Roxbury and Swanzey, will do about this latest development.

Roxbury sided with Monadnock in the lawsuit, while Swanzey sided with Troy.

On Nov. 1, 2013, Troy selectmen filed a petition with the state Board of Education asking it to overrule Monadnock voters’ approval of the petition warrant article changing the school funding formula.

The state board issued a ruling later that month saying it lacked the authority to grant Troy’s request.

Troy selectmen then filed a request for a rehearing on Dec. 20, 2013, which the state Board of Education denied on Jan. 14.

They then filed the lawsuit in N.H. Supreme Court on Feb. 13.

The Supreme Court accepted the suit, which is pending, on April 15.

While legal bills begin to mount for all parties involved in the lawsuits, Matson said Troy is still well within its legal budget of $18,000.

Monadnock has spent $9,562.25 to-date on the lawsuit its involved in, Business Administrator Jane E. Fortson said.

A message left at the N.H. Department of Education Tuesday afternoon, which includes the state Board of Education, wasn’t returned.