Hooksett board wants out of the city
The motion, which was passed unanimously, authorized Superintendent Dr. Charles Littlefield and the Hooksett School District's attorney, Gordon Graham, to approach the Manchester School District in pursuit of an exit deal. The move would avoid a breach of contract fight.
The Hooksett board's move is an attempt to reach an expedient solution to the Manchester High School Central issue. If resolved soon, Hooksett could find a replacement school for students to attend starting in September. Pinkerton Academy in Derry is widely considered to be a frontrunner for Hooksett students.
Should Manchester agree to the negotiations, and should a deal be reached, a warrant article will be issued to be voted on by town residents.
“We will not make the final decision on that,” said board member David Pearl. “We're just trying to bring forth the best possible solution and let the citizens make the final decision.”
Pearl also noted that the board could not guarantee that a deal could be produced.
Should negotiations or the warrant fail, the board may then push for a breach of contract. Such a move requires a 180-day notice, but would allow the town to walk away from its contract with Manchester with no financial liability. Such a course, however, would mean that Hooksett students are locked in at Manchester High School Central through the 2013-14 school year.
“We can certainly go down that path (of breach), but if we look at the 180 days, if we filed the letter today, it ends this cycle for us anyway,” said Pearl. “At the end of 180 days … we're very doubtful that we would have time to contract with another high school for September.”
The board was reticent to discuss details of what the negotiations will entail, other than noting that it had provided no guidelines or restrictions to Littlefield or Graham.
“What that solution is going to be, frankly, we have no idea,” Pearl said.
“You do have to trust us,” said Littlefield. “One of the things we absolutely cannot do is sit at a public meeting and begin to tell you what our strategies are for negotiations. … It does undermine us at the table. It weakens our position.”
Hooksett has been struggling with its relationship with Manchester High School Central, where the majority of Hooksett's students attend high school, since budget shortfalls in the city produced chronic overcrowding issues. Recent class-size figures released by the Manchester School District showed that while improvements had been made, 67 classes at Central, a little more than 10 percent of classes listed in the figures, remained above the 30-student class size mandated by the contract and state law.
According to the contract, should Hooksett leave this year without proving a breach of contract, the town would be liable for capital costs through 2018 and other contract damages, and would be expected to pay tuition for any students who remain at Manchester schools. The exact amount Hooksett would be liable for is not certain. Assuming Manchester holds to the requirements through the negotiations, the figure will be several million dollars.
Marc Miville, of the Hooksett Budget Committee, questioned the board members on this point during a public input session held after the vote. “Needless to say, I would expect that the school board and the superintendent look to maintain as low a cost as possible to the taxpayers to make all this transpire,” he said.
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