In an ongoing feud with the Manchester School District over overcrowding in its classrooms, Hooksett school board members have said the district remains in compliance with its contract with Manchester, even as it allows parents to send their children to other schools. Hooksett tuitions its high school students to Central High School in Manchester. Recently, parents and board members in Hooksett, along with fellow “sending town” Candia, have criticized Manchester for its overcrowded classrooms. Some Manchester Central classes have more than 30 students, which Hooksett claims is a violation of the contract.
The 2003 contract with Manchester runs out in 2023, but a five-year window begins in 2016 where, according to Hooksett School Board Vice Chairman David Pearl, Hooksett can inform Manchester it wants to leave two years before actually leaving. “Since December 2012 there has been a lot of talk and meetings, and we offered an early out of our contract and a settlement, but Manchester has refused,” Pearl said. “The contract that we have with Manchester doesn’t mention any percentages or numbers and says that individual students can request to attend other schools as long as the requests are made by the parents on an individual basis.”
Pearl said that if Hooksett parents ask to have their child attend another school, the parent is responsible for any costs exceeding the $8,400 that Candia pays Manchester for tuition, and the parents are responsible for transporting their student to school. He said that 64 out of 145 Hooksett eighth graders had been approved for transfer to different high schools for next year.
Londonderry Superintendent of Schools Nathan Greenberg said students from Hooksett are welcome in Londonderry. “Hooksett has said that it is within their contract to allow students to attend other schools, and we’ve accepted 60 of those students, so as it stands, next year we will have 60 of the Hooksett students at the high school,” Greenberg said. Pearl said that last winter Londonderry said it would charge Hooksett students the same tuition as was being paid Manchester. “I wrote to the principal of the high school and thanked him,” Pearl said.
“In some instances the tuition at the new school exceeds the $8,400 that the district pays Manchester and the parents pick up the difference. In Pembroke, there’s a $2,000 difference and the parents of that student must pay that difference,” Pearl said. Pearl said the Hooksett school board does not promote any school district and looks at each request on an individual basis. Doing so, Pearl said, lives up to the contract with Manchester.
“If we do leave the Manchester schools, then I think we would be looking into a hybrid contract with multiple schools, or if a school district could handle all of the students, then we’d look at only having one contract, but it would be a contract that is different from what we are experiencing now,” Pearl said. “When we signed with Manchester in 2003 it was a different time, schools had little room to spare, but now there are schools where enrollment is down and they can accept our students that are requesting transfers, where they couldn’t in 2003.”
Pearl, who is chair of the assessment committee that visits schools Hooksett students attend, and meets with faculty, administration and staff to get a sense of what students are experiencing, said Hooksett’s hope is to be out of the contract with Manchester by June 2014. Meanwhile, the Manchester School District has filed an injunction against Hooksett for allegedly not living up to its contract, claiming Hooksett is not reviewing students asking to leave Manchester on a case by case basis.
Pearl termed the action “unfortunate.” “It is very unfortunate that they are doing this,” he said. “We have studied the contract and we are doing everything within the contract. The contract states that we can allow the student on an individual basis to leave Manchester if they want to go to a different school, and that’s what we have been doing. The parent of the student petitions to have the student withdrawn from Manchester and we take it up at a meeting and make a decision on an individual basis.”
Pearl said that the Hooksett School Board has tried to have meetings with Manchester, and their attorneys have tried to no avail. “What about our issue of oversized classes? The contract states that there shall be no more than 30 students per class, but we have data to prove that there are more than 30 students to a classroom.” Pearl said there is no state law and no language in the contract that states a limit to the number of students who can leave Manchester, just that it must be done on an individual basis. “And that’s what we’ve been doing in fulfillment of the terms of the contract,” Pearl said.