Hooksett eyes jump in class size at Manchester high schools
With class sizes in Manchester now climbing beyond the state’s limit of 30 students per class, Manchester may be at risk of breaching its contract with Hooksett.
Hooksett School Board Chairman Dana Argo said that, despite the cuts in courses, Manchester is still providing the core requirements for a high school diploma, and is still fulfilling its side of the contract. But it was less clear how the increase in class sizes might affect the contract.
“We won’t know until Oct. 1,” said Argo. “That’s when Manchester will have its official enrollment numbers.”
Earlier this month, Manchester Assistant School Superintendent Michael Tursi told the Hooksett School Board that class sizes could average between 25 and the upper 30s at the city’s high schools.
When asked if the Manchester administration felt the school system was still fulfilling its contractual obligation to Hooksett, Tursi said that would be something for Manchester Superintendent Thomas Brennan and Littlefield to review when final enrollment numbers are available.
School districts have both a formal procedure to hash out disputes as well as other options to terminate contracts.
In 2011, Auburn residents voted to end their contract with Manchester and send all its high school students to Pinkerton Academy in Derry starting in 2013. Auburn will pay roughly $300,000 to the Manchester school district’s capital improvement fund as part of its termination agreement.
Hooksett School Board member David Pearl said Hooksett families are interested in other choices for their children and the school board has created the High School Assessment Committee to research and review its contract with Manchester as well as other possible options.
“There’s nothing that prevents you from having contracts with multiple school districts,” he said.
Pearl said in addition to educational information, the town will also need some facts and figures on the tax impact. Manchester’s tuition rates for out-of-district students are among the lowest offered.
Hooksett parents stymied when trying to leave
Hooksett is contracted to send the town’s high school students to Manchester through 2023, but debate was sparked earlier this year when the Hooksett School Board tightened the criteria families needed to meet to opt to enroll a child to secondary school in another district. Parents were required to appear before the School Board and make the case that attending high school in Manchester would result in a manifest educational hardship for the student.
However, that policy was abandoned last spring after a public forum where parents and School Board members concluded those requirements were too ambiguous. SAU 15 Superintendent Charles “Phil” Littlefield now decides if students can attend a high school in another district and have the town pay the same tuition that would have gone to Manchester.
The decision to clamp down on requests for school reassignments was made in response to the growing number of families who were asking for alternatives to Manchester. Last winter, School Board Chairman Dana Argo said that allowing more and more students to choose other schools could put Hooksett at risk of breaching its contract with Manchester.
Although there had been no complaints from Manchester, Argo said at the time that the decision was made so Hooksett could maintain the contract in good faith.
“Putting us at risk for a breach of contract puts the town at risk for a number of different problems,” he said.
High school committee to meet Sept. 19
Kara Salvas is one of several parents who has volunteered to serve on the assessment committee which is scheduled to meet for the first time on Sept. 19.
“We’ll be gathering information from other public high schools like accreditation status, class sizes, drop out levels,” said Salvas whose children are still years away from enrolling in high school.
Despite the fact that she has some time, Salvas said, as a parent, she wants to provide the best opportunities possible for her kids.
“As a community we need to look at all of this,” she said. “We need to provide some flexibility and options for students in Hooksett.”
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