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Appeal of Dunbarton School District

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

May 13, 2016

APPEAL OF DUNBARTON SCHOOL DISTRICT (New Hampshire State Board of Education)

Argued: September 24, 2015

State Board of Education

Sulloway & Hollis, P.L.L.C., of Concord (Edward M. Kaplan and Sarah S. Murdough on the brief, and Mr. Kaplan orally), for Goffstown School District.

Devine, Millimet & Branch, Professional Association, of Manchester (Daniel E. Will and Joshua M. Wyatt on the brief, and Mr. Will orally), for Dunbarton School District.

Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (Brian W. Buonamano, assistant attorney general, by brief), for New Hampshire State Board of Education, as amicus curiae.


The Dunbarton School District (Dunbarton) appeals a decision of the New Hampshire State Board of Education (Board) which determined that Dunbarton is liable to the Goffstown School District (Goffstown) for its proportional share of Goffstown's obligation on a 20-year construction bond approved in 2001 for renovations to the Goffstown High School. We reverse.

I. Background

The pertinent facts follow. Enacted in 1963, RSA chapter 195-A allows the establishment of Authorized Regional Enrollment Area (AREA) schools. See Laws 1963, ch. 277. The purpose of the statute is "to increase educational opportunities within the state by encouraging the establishment of area schools in the receiving districts which will serve the receiving district and the sending districts throughout a natural social and economic region . . . to permit efficient use of such area school facilities and to provide improved instruction." RSA 195-A:2, I (2008). The statute sets forth detailed procedures for establishing an AREA plan, see RSA 195-A:3 (Supp. 2015), and for the periodic review of AREA plans and withdrawal of districts from the AREA, see RSA 195-A:14 (2008).

Under the statute, an "'[a]rea school'" is defined as "an authorized regional enrollment area school, which may be elementary or secondary, and which when approved . . . shall be the assigned school for all the resident elementary or secondary pupils of the school districts or portions thereof within the region which it is established to serve." RSA 195-A:1, IV (2008). A "'[s]ending district'" is defined as "any school district or portion thereof which sends its resident pupils to an area school located in a receiving district, paying tuition therefor to the receiving district." RSA 195-A:1, V (2008). A "'[r]eceiving district'" is defined as "a school district in which an area school is located." RSA 195-A:1, VI (2008).

An AREA plan must include, among other things, a formula for the calculation of tuition. RSA 195-A:3, V(d) (Supp. 2015). "'Tuition'" is defined as "the sum of money which each sending district is obligated to pay to the receiving district to defray the cost of education" and "may include an annual rental charge per pupil." RSA 195-A:1, IX (2008). "'Annual rental charge per pupil'" is defined as "that additional payment included in tuition . . . which represents a fair charge for building occupancy. It may also include a fair charge for any debt service and reduction of principal, which may become due between date of bond issue and date of building occupancy." RSA 195-A:1, X (2008).

In 1971, Goffstown, Dunbarton, and the New Boston School District entered into a written AREA plan pursuant to which Goffstown was designated the receiving school district and Dunbarton and New Boston were designated the sending school districts. The plan established an annual tuition rate that included a rental charge of two percent. At the time the parties entered into this AREA plan, the statute did not require that an AREA plan contain a term of duration. See Laws 1969; 347:2.

In 1998, the Goffstown Building Needs Study Committee recommended a $10 million plan for renovations and additions to the Goffstown High School and the development of plans for an additional elementary school. The Goffstown school board decided to delay putting the question to public vote for one year. In 1999, a similar renovation plan was recommended by the committee but it was defeated in March 2000. Thereafter, a High School Building Study Committee was formed and, subsequently, it proposed an $11, 995, 000 plan to renovate Goffstown High School.

In November 2000, a written memorandum was sent on behalf of the Goffstown School Board to the school boards of Dunbarton and New Boston, notifying them that "the Goffstown School District will be proposing a building project at the March 2001 School District Meeting. The total cost of the project is $11, 995, 000. The Board is proposing a 20-year bond. The project encompasses renovations and additions to the Goffstown AREA High School." In March 2001, Goffstown voters authorized the Goffstown School District to issue bonds to raise $11, 995, 000 for the "Renovation/Addition Project" for the Goffstown AREA High School. See RSA 195-A:7 (2008) ("[T]he construction of ...

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