It’s difficult to predict an outcome when it comes to the Manchester-Hooksett high school contract situation.
On the one hand, Hooksett has formally notified Manchester it believes it is in breach of contract because many high school classes exceed 30 students. On the other hand, the Manchester school board is reportedly working with a proposed policy that would restrict class sizes to 30 students.
Then, according to a Union Leader article, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas recently pointed out Hooksett is supposed to send all of its high school students to Manchester, with exceptions only on a case-by-case basis. Since a fair number of Hooksett students are going to other public high schools, Gatsas is insinuating that perhaps Hooksett is in breach of contract too.
Hooksett is trying to get a resolution sooner rather than later. The Hooksett school board voted last week to make another attempt to negotiate a mutual agreement for early release from the contract. The board will also try to schedule a meeting with the Manchester school board to discuss the situation—the board tried that previously, but legal counsel in Manchester advised the school board not to meet with Hooksett, since Hooksett had formally declared the contract in breach.
Hooksett still owes Manchester millions of dollars in capital money as part of their contract agreement, which is tied to school renovations in Manchester several years ago. Meanwhile, Manchester would lose several million dollars if Hooksett pulled out all its students.
David Pearl, vice chairman of the Hooksett school board, said the district still has a three-pronged approach to the issue: negotiate early release from the contract, hold joint meetings with Manchester officials to discuss issues, and go through the legal process of declaring the contract breach.
“To me, the filing of breach does not mean we cannot have a discussion with Manchester,” Pearl said, noting he hadn’t heard Hooksett’s counsel suggest otherwise.
In that sense, it’s up to Manchester officials to change their minds about meeting with Hooksett. The Hooksett school board also instructed Superintendent Charles Littlefield to gather more information on class sizes in Manchester.
Based on a recent meeting with Candia, which also sends its high school students to Manchester and which has also expressed concern over classroom sizes, Pearl said it appears the city has made progress reducing class sizes, though many still have more than 30 students. Pearl noted the contract with Hooksett reads that all Manchester high schools must maintain class sizes according to state standards, which limit high school classes to 30 students. At the beginning of the school year some high school classrooms exceeded 40 students.
With another budget season on the way, school officials in Hooksett will continue to pay close attention to how the budget process turns out in Manchester. So far, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan has presented two budget options, one tied to the city’s spending cap and another that would restore some of the teachers lost during budget cuts last year.
“I think the issues with Manchester have been financial, not the quality of the teachers, educators, administrators, but a lack of funding,” Pearl said. “We’re waiting to see what happens.”