School funding suit to follow judge to Rockingham

  • Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David W. Ruoff presides in March 2019. Michael Moore / Keene Sentinel file

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 7/16/2021 5:52:12 PM

The latest court battle over New Hampshire’s school-funding formula will head to Rockingham County, after the judge who has presided over the case since 2019 was reassigned from Cheshire County.

Judge David W. Ruoff has been transferred to the Brentwood courthouse as part of a standard reshuffling of judges, judicial branch spokeswoman Tammy L. Jackson said Wednesday. In a court order last week, Tina L. Nadeau, chief justice of the N.H. Superior Court, ruled that Ruoff should remain on the school-funding case. That litigation was originally brought by the ConVal School District and joined by 18 other districts statewide, including Fall Mountain, Monadnock and Winchester, who argue the state’s current public school-funding formula is unconstitutional.

“The undersigned associate justice has spent an extensive amount of time in the past 3 years familiarizing himself with the file in this matter and issuing prior orders,” the court order, which Nadeau signed July 7, states. “The Court finds that keeping this case assigned to [Ruoff] is in the best interest of justice.”

Ruoff became a Cheshire County Superior Court judge in 2016, succeeding Judge John C. Kissinger Jr., and transferred to Rockingham County last month, Jackson said. Elizabeth Leonard, who became a superior court judge in May, has been assigned to Cheshire County.

Keeping Ruoff on the school-funding case will also help it keep moving toward trial, according to the court order. Attorneys in the case have requested a 15-day trial to begin Jan. 9, 2023, according to a separate order filed July 2.

The school-funding lawsuit is back in superior court after a N.H. Supreme Court decision in March found that Ruoff’s original 2019 ruling in the case did not employ the proper legal analysis when it declared the state fails to meet its constitutional duty to fund an adequate education. The state has maintained throughout that it does meet its school-funding obligation.

The ConVal lawsuit is the latest in a line of school-funding cases dating back to the 1990s, when the state Supreme Court issued its Claremont I and II decisions. Those opinions held that the state must fund an “adequate education.”

For the most recent school year, the state provided districts with a baseline of $3,708 per student in “adequacy aid,” plus additional amounts tied to students’ socioeconomic status, how many are in special education programs and other factors.

Statewide, districts spent an average of $16,823 per student in the 2019-20 school year, not including tuition to out-of-district schools, transportation, equipment and construction, according to data from the N.H. Department of Education.

Nationwide, per-pupil spending averaged $13,187 in 2019, according to statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau in May, and state governments contributed the greatest share — 46.7 percent — of public school funding. The state government’s contribution in New Hampshire is between 31 and 32 percent, according to 2018 census data.

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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