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Crowded classes may violate city contract with towns that send students to Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 03. 2012 11:42PM

MANCHESTER - Cuts in teaching staff at city schools and resulting increases in class sizes could violate the contract the Manchester School District has with three outside school districts that send students to city high schools, residents of those communities say.

If having high school classes with more than 30 students is found to violate the agreement between Manchester and the sending school districts, the towns of Candia, Auburn and Hooksett could move to terminate the agreement prior to its 2023 expiration date.

State Department of Education regulations set the standard for class size in high schools as '30 students or fewer per teacher.'

The agreement signed by the districts in Manchester and the three towns provides that city high schools will 'maintain appropriate space for its students in accordance with state minimum standards.'

When school opened last week, as many as 160 classes at a single city high school were reported to have more than 30 students.

Dawn Drake is the grandmother of a Manchester Central High School freshman who lives with her in Hooksett. Drake said she plans to raise the issue during the public participation portion of the Hooksett School Board meeting tonight.

'Her classes are over 40 students,' Drake said. 'I'm sick and tired of what's happening in the Manchester school system because we have a contract with the Manchester School District.'

Under the terms of the agreement, if Manchester defaults or breaks the agreement, a town district can give notice that it intends to terminate the contract if the problem isn't fixed in 180 days.

Manchester can appeal termination to the state Board of Education and, ultimately, to the courts.

The agreement has a separate procedure if the schools are too crowded because there aren't enough classrooms.

But Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan said through a spokesman last week that he has talked about the issue to the superintendent of School Administrative Unit 15, which includes Candia, Auburn and Hooksett.

Brennan said he and SAU 15 Supt. Charles Littlefield have jointly decided that they 'won't base anything on the figures right now, but will wait until the Oct. 1 figures are due.'

School districts are required to file reports with the state detailing the status of school enrollment and class sizes as of Oct. 1 each year.

In the meantime, the Manchester Board of School Committee has given Brennan the authority to make changes in curriculum and deployment of teaching staff in response to budget cuts voted by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The school board vote came after members heard of large enrollments in some classes and extremely small enrollments in some non-required courses. The Auburn School District has already given notice that it intends to pull its high school students out of the Manchester district and send them to Pinkerton Academy in Derry beginning in 2013.

Auburn has agreed to pay Manchester $1.2 million over three years as it withdraws.

The Candia School Board meets this week and school board member Emily Roster said Friday she thinks the issue could come up. So far, members of the school committee have not taken a position on the issue.

The Candia board meets Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Moore School media center. The Auburn board meets Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Auburn Village School.

The Hooksett School Board meets tonight at 6:30 in the Cawley School cafeteria. The meeting includes both a public forum and a regular school board meeting.

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