December 15. 2012 8:28PM

Another View -- Bradford E..Cook: Everyone should read Manchester's school tuition contract


As the chief negotiator who represented the Manchester School Board and created the tuition agreement between Manchester and the surrounding towns, I have watched with sorrow and concern the recent public outbursts concerning the tuition relationship between Hooksett, Candia and Manchester. Understanding the contract, it is apparent that all parties should quiet down and read the contract - and remember what it was designed to do.

In writing this, I do not endorse or support either the tax cap or the level of funding of Manchester schools.

The tuition agreement effective July 1, 2003, was the result of years of work to fashion a lasting relationship between Manchester and its partner towns for the education of a diverse group of students. No students were to be "guests" or "second class citizens." The surrounding towns had rights to minimum numbers of students in each high school, to members on school board committees and observers at the Manchester School Board with the right to speak. Individual high school advisory boards were designed to advise each high school, with participation by the sending districts. New facilities were built and the sending districts committed to paying substantial sums in return.

All of this was designed to support an integrated school system. Manchester committed to program and accreditation standards.

Unfortunately, since 2003, the communication and joint participation parts of the agreement have ceased to function, after having been established initially. Frankly, subsequent Manchester administrations either have not known of them or have ignored them, and the surrounding districts have not insisted on them. These should be reestablished immediately so communication about the facts, and not rumors, takes place rationally, as designed.

The tuition agreement has specific and detailed provisions on what constitutes a default, how one is asserted, and what happens then. Specifically, Section 4 (c) says that if a sending district believes there is a default, it has to declare the default in writing, specifying the asserted default. Manchester then has 180 days to remedy the default. If either party says it is not remedied, it can appeal, using the provisions of Section 14, to the school board, State Department of Education and the courts. Any talk of alternate means of addressing a default is not helpful.

Despite all the rhetoric, there is real doubt as to whether Manchester is in default under the tuition agreement. If it is, then the contract says Manchester is given the chance to fix it. The sending districts are not free to leave, nor are they free to send their high school students to schools other than Manchester, without being in default of the requirement to send all their students to Manchester.

On the other hand, Manchester is not entitled to act as if it can unilaterally reassign students from the sending districts, in violation of the agreement, without the assent of the sending districts, which they are not required to give. They are entitled to the deal they made, and public outbursts by Manchester officials, or giving the impression of telling the sending districts what they are going to do, is harmful.

Manchester, Hooksett and Candia made a good deal in 2003 to strengthen our historic high school partnership. The deal needs to get back on track. People need to read the contract instead of press reports to find out what the agreement is and what their rights are. Officials, parents and educators need to quiet down, listen and discuss their options. The tradition, and the students, are too important not to.

Bradford E. Cook, a Manchester attorney, is chairman of the state Ballot Law Commission. He is a former member of the Manchester Board of School Committee.