A new "Claremont Lawsuit" pending?
Twenty one years since the last multi-municipal suit against the State of New Hampshire over education funding,
clouds appear to be gathering for another.
In a May meeting the Claremont School Board invited attorneys John Tobin and Tom Connair to discuss a potential new lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire over its inequitable school funding system. Board chair Frank Sprague said exploring a new suit was among several goals prioritized this spring by the school board.
The question of a “Claremont III”
has arguably been about “when” not “if.” The legal work has continued quietly over the past several years. To date the state has yet to honor the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling, which declared the state constitutionally responsible to provide an adequate education for New Hampshire children.
Last year a multi-municipal coalition, including Claremont and Franklin, attempted to address the phase-out of state stabilization aid, an annual 4 percent decrease over 25 years, through state legislation. State legislative committees killed the bills before they could even reach the floor for discussion.
In 1997 the state Supreme Court told the New Hampshire legislature that it the state could no longer punt its education obligation onto local communities to raise through property taxes.
“In this appeal we hold that the present system of financing public education in New Hampshire is unconstitutional,” states an excerpt of the ruling read by Connair. “To hold otherwise is to conclude that it is reasonable . . . to tax properties in one town as much as four times the amount taxed to others similarly situated. This is precisely the kind of taxation and fiscal mischief from which the framers of our state constitution took strong measure to protect our citizens against.”
In Pittsfield, N.H., attorney and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky will lead a public workshop to educate citizens about how New Hampshire's current funding system works and how citizens can help grow coalition support. The workshop, hosted by the Pittsfield School District, is on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. at Pittsfield Middle High School. Visit this website for more information.
I plan to provide additional details in the coming weeks, including Tobin's recommendation of a
single state-wide property tax rate for school funding, as opposed to
each town using its own assessed value.
Note: Despite being known as the “Claremont Lawsuit”, Claremont was only one of several plaintiffs. As involved attorneys explain, a new suit will ultimately require a similar coalition, with support from as many towns as possible.