Judge to set path of school funding case

This article by Chris Mays originally appeared Sept. 5 in the Brattleboro Reformer.

NEWFANE — Judge Robert Gerety will decide whether attorneys present more evidence in a case against the state by the town of Whitingham, a student and a taxpayer. The plaintiffs allege the school funding system creates inequity regarding education quality and tax rates.

“You’re saying one community gets more bang for its buck?” Gerety said Wednesday in Windham Superior Court, Civil Division.

Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

Windham County Court House, Civil Division, in Newfane, Vt.

Gerety said he knows he has a lot of reading to do on the case, which he called “important.” He is looking at whether to grant the state’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, which would mean there are no material issues of fact to be resolved and the state is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

But the plaintiffs’ lawyers are arguing for more evidence to be considered than what was offered in the pleadings filed with the court. They hope to continue the pre-trial discovery process, which would allow the parties to obtain evidence from one another or others.

Attorney James Valente, who represents plaintiffs, has called the education property taxation and education funding system unconstitutional. Twin Valley student Sadie Boyd is “deprived of an equal educational opportunity” each day the system stays in place; taxpayer Madeline Klein is “required to make a disproportionate contribution to the state’s education funding system,” according to a proposed injunction filed with the court; “and every time the town of Whitingham is compelled to violate its resident taxpayers’ and students’ rights under the Vermont Constitution constitutes irreparable harm.”

William E. Griffin, chief assistant attorney general, and David Boyd, assistant attorney general, wrote in July that the state has created “uniform tax formulas that apply statewide in all districts, so that every district with the same level of spending per pupil will have the same homestead property tax rate.”

Homestead property taxes fund a portion of education spending payments the state makes each year to local school districts, the two attorneys wrote. By funding local budgets approved by voters and calculating tax rates uniformly throughout the state, they added, “the state corrects for differences among districts in property wealth, which had historically caused substantial inequality by allowing Vermont’s wealthier districts to raise more money for education, at lower tax rates, than its poorest districts could at higher tax rates.”

The state says the two formulas used to calculate homestead tax rates — one for spending per “equalized” pupil and another used to see whether districts exceed a statutory threshold that carries penalties — ensure substantial quality of education, preserve local control and control costs. But “a perfect fit between the formulas and their goals is not required,” wrote Griffin and David Boyd.

Read full article at the Brattleboro Reformer.

(Fair use with written permission from the New England Newspapers Inc.)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

One thought on “Judge to set path of school funding case

  1. The convoluted nature of the Agency of Education (AOE) funding formula, from its reliance on subjective ‘equalized’ fair market value calculations, including but not limited to:

    – the Common Level of Appraisal (“byproduct of the methodology used by [the Dept. of Property Valuation and Review] to derive the aggregate value of the town as a whole”),

    – the Coefficient of Dispersion (“a measure of uniformity of appraisals for all properties on the Grand List”),

    – not to mention Current Use subsidies,

    will make the plaintiff’s burden of proof virtually impossible to demonstrate.

    Even the AOE’s ‘equalized’ school district enrollment calculations, artificially inflated enrollment assessment method counting students in some districts as more than one student, are subjective.

    At the very least, the AOE funding process offends the ‘vagueness doctrine’ derived from due process requirements found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

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