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December 18. 2012 11:49PM

Hooksett's high school options become clearer

The Hooksett School Board has begun discussions with area high schools to get a sense of what its options are on the other side of a contract with Manchester.

With the data starting to come in, the possibility of a much discussed multi-school contract option is being considered.

The board voted on Dec. 14 to send the Manchester School District a letter to say it was in breach of contract after failing to remedy classroom overcrowding in the city schools. Should the breach be upheld, the contract will end on June 30, 2014, at which point Hooksett will be free to contract with a new school.

"I think the school board has now made its decision," said school board member David Pearl. "We have sent the letter (of breach), and now it's time to move on to the second issue, which is which school or schools do we want to deal with."

The Committee for High School Options and Opportunities, formed by the board in November to investigate the town's options, has so far contacted seven schools, including Pinkerton Academy, Bow High School, Goffstown High School, Bedford High School, Londonderry High School, Pembroke Academy and Concord High School. So far, only Concord High and Pembroke Academy have not responded.

The preliminary response the town has received has varied.

No school except Pinkerton Academy has expressed an ability and willingness to accept the entirety of Hooksett's high school class. Hooksett currently has 686 high school students.

Preliminary figures cited in the district's "Long Range Plan" list future high school class sizes as falling between 608-832 students.

Bedford High School is not currently interested in a contract with the town, though they are willing to take a certain number of students who applied under the district's transfer policy. The rest of the schools are capable of taking only a portion of the district's students.

Two related outliers here are Goffstown and Bow, with Dunbarton being the deciding factor. Dunbarton currently sends its high school students to Goffstown High, but tuition rates have pushed the town to consider moving to Bow. Bow is currently working on a contract with Dunbarton, which Dunbarton will put before voters in March. Both towns have told Hooksett that their ability to take the town's students will depend on the results of that vote.

With data coming forward, what has been called the multi-school or "choice" option has also entered the forefront of the discussion.

The idea, which was first forward by the local activist group Higher Education Lifts People (HELP), involves signing multiple contracts with area schools to take a portion of the town's students, allowing parents a greater choice of where their students may attend high school.

According to the committee members, however, the logistics of such a project could be problematic.

"At this point in time, the numbers are not there to support us going into a multi-district contract," said Committee and School Board member Trisha Korkosz. "The totals (of available space) from the schools that have gotten back to us does not come near to the 680 that we need."

The remaining factor in the multi-school option is Pinkerton, specifically whether Pinkerton, which has stated that it could accept all of Hooksett's students, would require an "all-or-nothing" arrangement.

"To me, (Pinkerton) is the determining factor. If Pinkerton says all or nothing, I would agree with your numbers," said Pearl. "(But) if Pinkerton came back and said, 'Well we could take 400,' that wouldn't close the door on multi-school."

Seeking a deal with Pinkerton to receive a portion of Hooksett's students, however, may prove tricky.

Pinkerton has member towns that send all of their students to the school and enjoy a seat on the school's board of directors. Should Hooksett send all of its students to Pinkerton, it in turn would become a "member town." Otherwise, Pinkerton has a limit to the number of non-member students who may attend the school: 50. In the last two years, member towns were asked to increase the number of non-member students attending Pinkerton. When the request went to the voters, however, Derry rejected the increase.

"Every time, Derry votes no," said Korkosz. "They want it to be 50 non-member students. That has been their history, and that's the one area that Derry feels they have control at Pinkerton. I can't see Derry changing their tune because Hooksett wants to send a hundred kids to Pinkerton."

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Brendan Clogston may be reached at bclogston@newstote.com.


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