Transportation, capacity at the center of Hooksett school debate
By BENJAMIN C. KLEIN Union Leader Correspondent
HOOKSETT — While school officials and some residents have expressed concerns that Pinkerton Academy in Derry would be a long trek for Hooksett's high school students, others said they believe Goffstown may not be a suitable alternative as the district's anchor high school.
With Hooksett's contract with the Manchester School District expiring at the end of the school year, Hooksett is currently negotiating with Pinkerton Academy to be the district's anchor high school and with Bow, Pembroke, Londonderry and Goffstown about the possibility of serving as satellite schools starting next year.
Goffstown Interim Superintendent Brian Balke acknowledged that while Goffstown is interested in taking Hooksett students to make up for the recent loss of Dunbarton students to the Bow School District, Goffstown does not have enough space to take all of Hooksett students. Pinkerton does.
"We would not have the capacity to take on 600 students, I don't think we would have the space. Currently we have 1,200 students (including roughly 125 Dunbarton students) and our capacity is between 1,200 and 1,300," said Balke.
"I do know that Goffstown just lost their Dunbarton students, so that increased their capacity and decreased Bow's. I personally think we should make deals with as many satellite schools as we can," Hooksett School Board Vice Chairman David Pearl said.
However, Pearl said that the board never seriously considered Goffstown as the district's anchor school for Hooksett's 650 high school students because a prerequisite for being considered was the ability to take all of the district's high school students.
"And (Hooksett Schools Superintendent) Dr. (Charles) Littlefield said that only Pinkerton fit the bill," Pearl said.
Hooksett School Board Chairman Trisha Korkosz said that while Hooksett approached Goffstown early in the process of the district's search to replace Manchester, Goffstown's response to Hooksett's inquiry from then-Superintendent Stacy Buckley, who has since left the district, led her to believe they were not interested.
"Originally the high school options committee approached Goffstown, and they responded and said how many spaces they had, but that it was contingent on what was going on with Dunbarton, and then they had their election and we heard no follow-up from them to us. They were supposed to come back to us and the assumption on my part is that they weren't interested," Korkosz said.
Balke said that it would be accurate to say that Goffstown's lack of response coincided with the time that the previous superintendent was in the process of leaving the district.
"And it is not necessarily closer than anywhere else we are talking to, and it's not an easy place to get to from Hooksett. Pinkerton is better in terms of transportation. If somehow Goffstown was the anchor, it would switch from a west-side problem to an east-side problem in terms of transportation," Korkosz said.
Parents weigh in
Danielle Lazierrie, who has two children in the Hooksett School District, agreed that Goffstown is just too far away from her house to be a viable option for her.
She added that she is familiar with Goffstown, as her husband is an alum from there, but that the car ride would be 40 minutes at least.
"For me, personally, Goffstown is not a choice, but I think that every family should have a choice, because Hooksett doesn't provide a high school."
Jessica LaPaglia, who also has two children in the district, said that she has never even seriously considered Goffstown as an alternative to Pinkerton.
"I know it would benefit some families because it is on the other side of Hooksett, and the distance to Pinkerton has been a concern for some. But obviously curriculum and education is the most important thing, and on that I don't know, but I would love to hear more," LaPaglia said.
Still, LaPaglia said that if she were forced to choose between Pinkerton and Goffstown, it would be Pinkerton.
"Pinkerton offers so much in terms of special education, trade schools and AP classes. They are one-stop shopping because it covers all our needs," LaPaglia said.
Jen Leger also has two children in the district and agreed that while Goffstown might make a viable satellite school, it doesn't make sense as the anchor school.
"Pinkerton. Hands-down, they just have the ability to offer so much more. Pinkerton can encompass and educate all our students. I just think they are the total package," Leger said.
Hooksett high schoolers have been attending Manchester high schools for many years but because of dissatisfaction with the city's schools, Hooksett began looking at other districts where its students could be educated. That led to a series of events in which the Manchester School District filed suit against Hooksett to enjoin its students from leaving, and paying for it with tuition money due to Manchester.
The Manchester and Hooksett 20-year contract, which was signed in 2003, states the sending district must send all of its high school students to Manchester with the exception of students who are granted an exemption by the sending town's school board on a case-by-case basis.
In July, Hooksett and Manchester reached an agreement on terminating the contract between the two districts in 2014, rather than 2018. The agreement settles Hooksett's breach of contract claim against Manchester and Manchester's injunction against Hooksett.
Hooksett is paying Manchester about $8,500 per year per student, said Littlefield. Transportation is Hooksett's responsibility and is not included in the tuition fees.