Hooksett grassroots group holds vote of its own outside polls
By BRENDAN CLOGSTON Union Leader Correspondent
Tom Parnell, right, of HELP walks a Hooksett voter through the group's poll on the Manchester high school issue. (Brendan Clogston/Union Leader Correspondent)
HOOKSETT - While Hooksett voted at David R. Cawley Middle School, Hooksett parents associated with the grassroots group High School Education Lifts People (HELP) conducted a democratic experiment of their own at their booth outside, holding a poll for Hooksett voters to mark their opinion on the town's ongoing high school issue.
The poll had two options: continue with the Manchester contract, of which Manchester has informally been accused of breach due to chronic classroom overcrowding, or move to a "Manchester with choice" option, with multiple contacts in effect allowing parents to send their children to a selection of area schools, including Manchester Central, Pinkerton Academy, Pembroke Academy, and Bow High School.
“The whole idea is that in the group, there's a lot of opinions as to what would be the right way to go, and the consensus we've come to is do we want choice or do we not want choice?” said HELP member Tom Parnell. "Do we want to continue down with the Manchester contract only, or do we want to do an all-inclusive choice option?... As these different schools come forward, let them compete. Let the free market dictate what the best option is."
Once the data is collected, the results will be presented to the Hooksett School Board for consideration.
"We want to give the school board some support, say, 'This is what your community has come forward and said at the polls,' " said Parnell. "It's democracy at its best. Here we are saying, 'This is what we want, this is what the voters want.' "
The Hooksett School Board is currently conducting negotiations with the Manchester School District for an early release from the town's contract with the city school district. If an agreement is reached, it will be put in a warrant article for the town to vote on.
Should the negotiations be successful and the warrant article pass, the board will begin negotiations for a replacement school, with Pinkerton Academy in Derry being a popular favorite. HELP's informal internal polling conducted through their Facebook page generally indicates a similar attraction to Pinkerton.
Regardless of whether or not the school board ultimately takes up HELP's proposal or attempts to negotiate a single contract, HELP members believe the board appreciates their engagement.
"They're happy," said Parnell. "They're applauding us for taking this step to try and coalesce segments of the community and give (the board) some direction on where to go with this."