DERRY — Budgets, taxes and how to give students the best education possible were all topics of a recent forum aimed at issues dealing with how the state supports its schools.
Attorneys Andru Volinsky and John Tobin were guest speakers for an educational funding forum held Aug. 20 at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School.
Volinsky, currently an executive councilor for District 2, and Tobin were attorneys in the Claremont lawsuit decades ago that pitted several school districts against the state for school funding issues and how the state formulated its numbers for supporting schools.
He, along with Tobin, are now speaking out at community forums to talk about school funding and what has gotten the state to where it is now when it comes to supporting its schools.
Derry residents approved a $82 million school budget at the polls in March, but the district has seen its school adequacy numbers fall in recent years.
Derry's combined 2017 tax rate is $28.86, but the town has less property value that can be taxed, compared to a community like Londonderry where economic development and big industry supports the town's financial structure and tax base.
"Derry's taxes are high, but you have less to tax," Tobin said. "The system makes you run harder and generate less."
Tobin said school enrollment is shrinking, populations in some areas are shrinking and the economy in many areas is stagnant.
"And this educational funding system makes you have to work a lot harder to support your schools," he said.
Since the Claremont case, several governors have led the state and worked on educational funding issues.
Tobin said the state is doing less and less in terms of school budgets.
In their official talking points, the attorneys said the state's Constitution sets two core requirements for K-12 public education: the state has a duty to pay for the cost of a constitutionally adequate education for every student, and the taxes the state uses to pay for this education must have a uniform rate across the state.
Right now, more than 60 percent of the cost of educating children is paid through local property taxes and those rates vary from town to town.
The funding system also discourages young families from moving to school districts with high property taxes and struggling school systems, the attorneys said.
The state is also paying about 4 percent less to districts each year, part of a $150 million stabilization grant program being phased out. Derry loses about $346,000 per year because of this drop in aid.
Less building aid and other state support is wearing on many districts, Tobin said.
Both Tobin and Volinsky say it's time for residents in all towns to take a look at how their schools are funded and begin conversations with their state legislators to voice concerns.
"This whole thing should be solved by legislation, not by lawyers going back to court," Tobin said. "The core concept is, wherever they are, these kids are our kids. We need to make sure we take care of all our kids."
The system now needs help, both attorneys agreed.
"The lights are going off as to whether our system is working," Tobin said, adding by spreading information through the forums, it is the hope more people will understand.
He added a lot of people at the state level have tried a lot of different things to make school funding fair and successful. Now it's time to pull together again and do this in a united way.
"This is why we are doing this around the state with these forums," Tobin said. "This all should be solved by these legislators. This is civics, this is democracy, think about it, talk about it. Let them know you care about this and care about your schools."