N.H. school officials react to school aid plan, Eagle Tribune, 2/17/12

posted Feb 19, 2012, 9:41 AM by Bill Duncan

EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MAFebruary 17, 2012
By Cara Hogan

Local school superintendents are afraid of changes to school funding if a proposed state constitutional amendment passes the House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, on a 17-7 vote, the Senate approved amendment CACR 12, which would give the Legislature power to distribute aid to schools, with more money going to poorer communities.

But some local school administrators say the amendment would complicate the funding process.

If the amendment does pass, the funding received by each town could change dramatically, according to Andrew Smith, associate director of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

"Some of the towns will benefit and some others will see resources they're getting drying up," he said. "Some towns which are not really hurting economically currently get aid from the state. This is what the amendment is designed to address, by giving aid to who needs it most."

But Timberlane Regional School District Superintendent Richard La Salle said the uncertainty of the funding is tough for school administrators.

"I don't know if there will be more money in our four towns or less, but it certainly opens up that possibility and makes all of us nervous," he said. "We need to have confidence in the level of state funding we're going to get each year. Currently, the amount we expect to get each year has stabilized. Our greatest fear would be the system would destabilize again and we wouldn't know year to year what we could expect from the state."

Londonderry Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said he is opposed to the amendment for many reasons. He said he is wary of giving complete control of funding to the Legislature, which has been cutting programs because of budget shortfalls.

"Each time the Legislature has felt that they were unfettered, they have reduced aid," Greenberg said.

"Currently, the state is not meeting the burden in catastrophic aid, transportation and they have backed away from their share for retirement. You have wave after wave of downshifting costs to local taxpayers."

And, Greenberg said, the amendment doesn't specify how it will be determined which school districts deserve aid.

"Is it based on property wealth?" he asked.

"Based on personal income? On the number of students that qualify for free and reduced lunch? What you're going to find is middle-tier school districts, like Londonderry or Merrimack, will wind up getting significantly less money in state aid."

But Henry Labranche, superintendent in Windham and Pelham, supports the amendment, which he said creates a more equitable system of aid distribution.

"I have one district that would lose and another that would benefit," he said, referring to his two towns.

"There are discrepancies in need across the state and that needs to be looked at."

Labranche said the school districts that complain about not knowing what they will receive in aid will learn to budget more carefully.

He said this would return aid to how it was awarded up until about 20 years ago.

"Targeted aid is not too different from what I had when I first started in 1973," he said. "We would be very conservative and project no more in aid than we got in the current year. It's not a new problem."

While school district officials are concerned about the amendment, Smith said it's hard to say whether the House will approve it.

The amendment is supported by Gov. John Lynch, who said it will ease funding inequities in the state. But a number of Republicans in the House, including Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, may not support it as written.

Packard said he sponsored the original bill, but hasn't seen the full wording of the new amendment.

"The bill I co-sponsored last year has been completely changed," he said.

"The original intention was that every child be treated fairly, that kids in Londonderry and Windham don't get any less funding just because they happen to come from a rich community. I think it's now the opposite of what I intended."

If the bill does pass the House, it would be on the ballot in November and needs 60 percent of the vote to become part of the state Constitution.

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