Dover officials believe the state of New Hampshire shortchanged the city nearly $14 million in education funding during the last seven years, and the city has filed a lawsuit in order to get some of that money back. City manager J. Michael Joyal announced on Aug. 20 that the city filed a lawsuit against the state in Strafford County Superior Court. Representing the city is Andru Volinsky, who was an attorney on the Claremont cases in the 1990s that established guidelines for state funding of education.
State education funding is determined on a per pupil basis. Aid to a community can grow no more than 8 percent a year. According to the lawsuit, that cap “has deprived 79 municipalities of crucial and constitutionally mandated state aid. Moreover, the cap disproportionately affects communities experiencing growth in enrollment.”
According to the lawsuit, that’s what’s happening in Dover — in the current fiscal year, the city should receive $9 million in state aid, based on enrollment figures. However, because of the 8-percent cap, it will only receive $7.6 million. Since 2009, when legislators restructured how education aid is given to communities, Dover officials say the state has kept nearly $14 million in education aid from the city, which has left taxpayers to pick up the shortfall.
The city is scheduled to receive the first of its education aid payments for this fiscal year from the state on Sept. 1. According to the lawsuit, the city should receive $1.8 million, but because of the cap, it will receive only $1.5 million.
In a statement, mayor Karen Weston said “this (first) payment will be hundreds of thousands of dollars short.”
“The city council and I voted to act quickly to … challenge this arbitrary cap on educational funding not only because it’s the right and fiscally prudent thing to do … but because complex constitutional considerations make it difficult to win back payments from the state,” she said.
Along with the $14 million, the city is also seeking attorney’s fees from the state. “We know that we will incur some expense by commencing this suit and that we may bear some risk by undertaking this effort. However, we believe that Dover’s children and taxpayers are well worth the fight,” Weston said. — Larry Clow