By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the state’s education funding system, claim in a filing Monday the state misstated their claims, their burden of proof and ignores evidence they presented.
The plaintiffs in the Rand and other residential and commercial property taxpayers versus the State of New Hampshire responded to a state motion for summary judgment instead of going to trial which was scheduled for next month, but was postponed by Superior Court Judge David Ruoff.
Ruoff put off the trial until he rules on a request for summary judgment concerning the constitutionality of the Statewide Education Property Tax and on the suit filed by the ConVal School District and others claiming the state fails to pay the cost of an adequate education.
Earlier this month the State moved for a summary judgment on the remainder of the Rand case which claims the state fails to fund an adequate education because it relies on local property taxes with varying rates to pay for it, has never determined the cost of individual services and fails to include state required, essential education services in its costing formula.
Monday’s filing states, “In a case as important as this is to so many property taxpayers, school children, educators, and to the State’s fiscal responsibility, it is unfortunate that the State seeks summary judgment by mischaracterizing Plaintiffs’ Complaint and legal burden. In doing so, the State asks the Court to ignore Plaintiffs’ plainly stated (and in some instances bolded) Causes of Action and Claims for Relief.”
Instead the plaintiffs’ attorneys argue the complaint against the state clearly outlines their contentions.
“The State does not currently guarantee funding sufficient to cover the cost of an adequate education. As a result, New Hampshire must rely on local school taxes to bridge the gap. These local school taxes violate Part II, Article 5 of the New Hampshire Constitution because they are not uniform in rate,” the attorneys quote from their complaint.
The plaintiffs argue their evidence is based on “real-world” costs borne by districts resulting from actual educational expenditures.
The attorneys note they provided evidence from two experts, both retired school superintendents, one from Pittsfield and the other from Berlin, who testified that state’s adequate education grants and differential aid related to costs associated with poverty, special education and non-English speaking students do not pay for teachers and administration, nor other adequate education requirements like the state’s minimum standards.
“Unable to challenge Plaintiffs’ evidence on the merits, the State mischaracterizes the facts and law in its Motion for Summary Judgment,” the attorneys write.
And they said the state’s motion places the burden of proof on the plaintiffs to demonstrate that the money school districts spend on services falls within the state definition of an adequate education and they made no effort to isolate the component costs of an adequate education.
The plaintiffs argue they have done so in both instances, and the state has never determined the unit cost of the components of an adequate education as the Supreme Court ordered in the Londonderry School District suit against the state.
The filing notes the state used two experts and neither offered an opinion on whether the state’s adequacy funding was sufficient nor if the state’s definition of adequacy was.
“Because there is no dispute that the local education tax rates vary, the only fact Plaintiffs must prove to prevail is that adequacy funding (base and differentiated aid) is insufficient to meet the State’s definition of adequacy,” the attorneys write. “Accordingly, the State’s argument that Plaintiffs need to demonstrate “that everything school districts spend money on falls within the definition of an adequate education the Legislature adopted,’ (State’s Memo. of Law, at 9), is disingenuous and intentionally misleading.”
They argue the court should not grant summary judgment because there is ample evidence the state’s adequacy funding is insufficient.
They also argue their burden is to prove state education aid is insufficient not to define and isolate the cost of adequacy, and that the state’s definition of adequate education is arbitrary.
“By not challenging Plaintiffs on the merits, the State seeks to further a system designed to prevent anyone from defending their constitutional rights,” the attorneys write. “This cannot be what Claremont intended. Plaintiffs are entitled to prove their case at trial.”
The state argued in both education funding suits that many school district expenses are not included in what the state pays for an adequate education for all students.
In its filing, the state claims there is no dispute over the definition of an adequate education or the services needed to provide it, although the plaintiffs claim as they did the plaintiffs in the ConVal suit, that the state requires school districts to provide students with transportation, school nurses, school facilities and their maintenance and capital costs, while the state argues they are not included in an adequate education and the state does not have to pay for them.
The plaintiffs had 30 days to file their response to the state’s request for a summary judgment.
The case is being heard in Rockingham County Superior Court where Ruoff sits.
It was originally filed in Grafton County Superior Court, but the judge hearing the case recused himself and it was turned over to Ruoff.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.