The 2014-2015 school year starts in less than nine months, and many Hooksett parents have no idea where their high-school students will be going.
The debate for the Hooksett School District has come down to a clash between tradition and transformation — work out a relationship with Manchester to maintain a 100-year history with the city, or head to Derry for a new beginning at Pinkerton Academy.
Contract negotiations with Pinkerton have stumbled in recent weeks. In late November, Hooksett Superintendent Dr. Charles Littlefield told the school board that talks with Pinkerton had “hit a snag” and that he hoped a contract could be worked out for the 2015-2016 school year.
The issue Pinkerton had was over the wording contained in proposed Memorandums of Understanding with Londonderry and Bow, which allows those districts to refuse to accept Hooksett students with histories of drug use or violence. But Pinkerton later dropped its concern and talks were back on — to the dismay of some school board members hoping to avoid another long-term contract for the district.
“The old thinking with education and long-term 20- or 10-year contracts has kind of fallen by the wayside like a dinosaur,” said Hooksett School Board member John Lyscars.
In July, Hooksett severed ties to a 20-year tuition contract with Manchester that would have kept the town’s children in the city schools until 2023. Under the settlement, Manchester will have to accept Hooksett kids until 2018, with Hooksett paying $791,798.10 in annual capital cost obligations until that time.
Hooksett must also pay Manchester $100,000 for each of the next two years, with steady tuition increases of about $200 each year.
But without Hooksett tied to a long-term deal, Lyscars said, Manchester will now have to “remain competitive” as a district to bring kids in, since it is no longer guaranteed the enrollment numbers that it used to have.
Should Hooksett negotiate a contract with Pinkerton in time for the school district warrant in March, Lyscars said that voters would specifically have a say on the money appropriated for that school, which stands at $10,200 per student.
“So if [residents] voted down that warrant article, which has not yet been produced, they would really just be voting down the money that would be allocated specifically for Pinkerton,” said Lyscars. “The money would be in the budget as money for high school. It is not specifically designated for any [one] high school.”
As of now, Pinkerton’s tuition cost is in line with the $10,200 that Hooksett must pay to send a student to Manchester, but that could change. According to Lyscars, another school board vote would need to take place to change the tuition budget line item if Pinkerton were to increase its price for the fall. The end game, he said, could lead to the majority of Hooksett residents paying the difference to send their kids to Pinkerton.
School board member David Pearl, who joins Lyscars on the board minority against a long-term Pinkerton deal, said that the desires of the Hooksett children on where they want to attend school are unknown.
“We have tried to conduct surveys, but the board has not voted for that,” said Pearl. “We wanted to survey people to see where they stand. Of course you hear some loud people for each side, but it’s very difficult to quantify.”
While Pearl and Lyscars disagree with another long-term tuition contract for Hooksett, resident Mark Messina believes his town needs a specific school to send the majority of its kids to. Messina said that Manchester considers Hooksett as a revenue source rather than a partner in education.
“If we have a contract with Pinkerton, which by everybody’s standards is a well-run school, we would then have two seats on the board of trustees where we would then have some exposure to the decisions happening with the school,” said Messina.
Using Hooksett’s policy, which states that parents must receive school board approval before moving their children to another school, Jennifer Leger sends her daughter to Londonderry High School.
Leger, a 13-year Hooksett resident, said she supports the Pinkerton tuition contract because it will give more options to all, especially given the annual out-of-pocket expenses currently required to send a child to Pinkerton without a contract in place.
Appeared in the December 5, 2013 issue of the Hippo