School Board Contemplating Lawsuit Against the State

August 21, 2015

by Barbara O’Brien

During the past five years, the Windham School District has received $11.7 million less than was originally called for through the formula for New Hampshire’s Adequate Aid to Education.  Windham is only one of 40 towns statewide, however, that has been underfunded, due to budget problems at the state level.  Some of these communities appear to have reached their limit; however, on how long they are willing to let the situation continue unabated.

Recently, the City of Dover and the Town of Bedford decided to pursue legal action against the state to recoup lost funding, and they are hoping to convince other school districts to join their cause.  The issue was raised during the Windham School Board’s meeting on Aug. 18.

School Board Chairman Ken Eyring said he feels officials have an obligation to proceed in securing the lost funding.  “This is not an insignificant amount,” Eyring said.  Litigation against the state goes back to 1992, Vice-Chairman Tom Murray recalled, referring to the Claremont Decision.  The Claremont Decision set the adequacy aid issue into motion, basically pitting wealthier towns against those that have a high percentage of low-income families.  As a result, higher income towns, such as Windham and Bedford, had their adequacy aid reduced.  Murray said he applauds the mayor of Dover for her pursuit to recover the lost funding.  Murray also said he believes placing a cap on funding for education is unconstitutional, adding that he thinks there would be little risk for Windham in taking legal action against the state.

School board member Daniel Popovici-Muller said he believes the cap on adequacy aid “punishes towns like Windham that do everything right; that are successful in educating their students.”  As for the possibility of piggy backing on Dover’s lawsuit, Popovici-Muller said he would need to know the estimated legal costs and the potential benefits before he could voice an opinion.

Board member Dennis Senibaldi suggested that Windham pay its school district attorney for an opinion, rather than to rely on the lawyer representing Dover and Bedford.  “It’s deplorable that this has happened,” school board member Rob Breton said, expressing his aggravation over the significant loss of funding.  Breton said he fully supports getting more information on legal options to remedy the situation.

In order to encourage any other interested communities to join the lawsuit, an informational forum is scheduled at the New Hampshire Municipal Association in Concord on Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m.  This meeting is not open to the public, however.  “It’s intended to be a fact-finding mission,” State Representative David Bates said.  Bates has been instrumental in putting forth legislation that would remove the cap placed on adequacy aid.  “The State of New Hampshire must provide an adequate education to every child,” Bates said.  Options to be discussed at the upcoming meeting include taking legal action against the state to have the cap removed moving forward, as well as attempting to recoup the millions of dollars not received in the past five years.

The Windham School Board will be sending administrative personnel to the Aug. 25 forum and will also be consulting the school district attorney about the advisability of him attending, as well.  “I hope we do sue the state,” resident Bob Coole said.  “This is not just some drop in the bucket.”  “The State of New Hampshire needs a wakeup call.  This is for the kids!”