School Funding

Valley News – Lebanese taxpayers could support both sides in NH schools funding lawsuit


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LEBANON – Lebanese taxpayers are funding two efforts to shape the way New Hampshire pays for its public schools, but it is not clear whether these campaigns share the same goals.

Lebanon’s school board voted 6-2 last week to join a lawsuit to increase the amount of state aid allocated to Granite State students, joining a coalition of 16 school districts.

Many of these, including Claremont and Newport, are considered poor in ownership, with lower tax bases that struggle to keep local schools afloat.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s city council is working alongside 27 communities to lobby against proposals to redistribute money from wealthy cities to those in need.

This group, called Coalition Communities 2.0, includes wealthy cities such as New London and Newbury, NH which are popular vacation destinations and have a number of secondary owners.

So isn’t Lebanon – a city that has seen a demographic shift from workers and farmers to healthcare workers and academics – playing both sides?

“Basically I think they’re okay, no opposition,” City Manager Shaun Mulholland said this week of the two schools‘ fundraising efforts.

The lawsuit and the lobbying campaign recognize the same problem – New Hampshire is too dependent on property taxes to fund schools – and are looking for solutions, he said in a telephone interview.

For example, the school districts being sued argue that the statewide property tax is not enough to pay for an adequate education and was only a base payment of $ 3,600 per student in 2019.

In court documents, they said the actual figure, including transportation and maintenance costs, was around $ 18,900.

Coalition communities also recognize these challenges, Mulholland said, and believe that increased use of state-wide property taxes “is not the solution.”

Instead, much of the group’s members are inclined to support a large-scale tax, which the city manager said would be fairer than simply charging homeowners by municipality.

Deputy Mayor Clifton Below made a similar point, calling the school district and the city’s efforts “complementary.”

The image of coalition communities as wealthy cities trying to avoid tax increases at the expense of their less fortunate neighbors might have been true before 2011, when the system of donor cities – where excess money communities rich in property was sent to the poorest. – has been abolished, he said.

But the group is now made up of a mix of municipalities with diverse populations, said Below, a former Democratic state senator.

“The difficult reality is that we are now funding education with a broad-based tax, which is the (property) tax on education,” he said. “It’s just disconnected from our ability to pay.”

The current tax structure means families and seniors often face a disproportionately higher tax burden that sometimes becomes unbearable, said Below, who proposed an income tax in the legislature. During the COVID-19 pandemic, things appear to have worsened, he added, as workers far from out-of-state flocked to rural communities, upping home values ​​and crowding out the workforce already here, he said.

“I just think that the fundamental problem that the communities in the coalition are trying to solve is the increasing use of property tax” to fund the government, Mr. Below said.

But it is not certain that a victory in the ConVal lawsuit – named after the main plaintiff, the Contoocook Valley Regional School District – would result in a more progressive tax system.

While New Hampshire courts have found loopholes in the state’s school funding system, they have mostly left the changes to the Legislature. And Republicans, who now hold majorities in the House and Senate, have successfully campaigned against large-scale taxes for decades, as have some Democrats.

Lebanon School Board Chairman Dick Milius said that while he supported the main arguments put forward in the ConVal case, he was concerned that they would lead to the same thing. Lawmakers, he said, could simply respond by placing a heavier burden on property tax statewide to cover deficits.

They could also follow the recommendations of a 181-page report. released by lawmakers last year this called for a statewide redistribution of property tax, essentially bringing back the system of donor cities.

Milius, who voted against participating in the ConVal trial, said he was not necessarily concerned about the lawsuit, which he called the first step towards resolving education funding issues in New Hampshire.

“I’m just concerned about what happens in stages two and three,” he said.

The threat of Lebanese dollars going to other communities led Lebanon to join coalition communities, which are made up of communities of potential donors.

Using calculations from the Education Funding Report, State Representative Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, determined earlier this year that returning to donor cities could increase property taxes in the country. city ​​of $ 1.09 for every $ 1,000 of a home’s land value. This equates to an additional $ 273 for a property valued at $ 250,000.

Other officials say the Legislature should at least explore the donor city system, given the urgent need for some school districts. Lebanon’s municipal councilor, Devin Wilkie, was one of more than 20 municipal officials from across the state who co-signed a letter Earlier this month, lawmakers called on lawmakers to include the funding model in New Hampshire’s next budget.

“I don’t think we should omit reviewing last year’s recommendations,” Wilkie said, adding that any solution will require additional taxes for some people.

“It’s important that we take a holistic approach to this as we look at what we’re doing for the entire national and global community in New Hampshire, rather than just the effect it has on property tax.” of a municipality, ”he said.

For the moment, none of the angles of attack are likely to be resolved soon.

Mulholland, who attends Coalition meetings every month, said he was largely preparing to respond to potential bills that could be tabled next year.

Meanwhile, lawyers in the ConVal case say a trial shouldn’t start until the fall. It is also likely that any decision made by the Superior Court will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Tim Camerato can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.

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