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May 01. 2013 11:14PM

Hooksett School Board defends student withdrawals from Manchester

HOOKSETT - Hooksett School Board members say allowing parents to remove their children from crowded Manchester schools and send them elsewhere complies with the contract between the town and city.

The Manchester Board of School Committee voted Monday to take legal action against Hooksett to prevent the town from continuing to allow its high school students to leave the city.

Hooksett and Manchester have been sparring for months so the Manchester board's vote to file an injunction was hardly a surprise. Hooksett officials contend Manchester is in breach of contract because it has classes with more than 30 students per teacher, failing to meet minimum state standards.

"The Hooksett School Board's utilization of the JCB (reassignment) policy is in compliance with our contract with Manchester," Chairman Trisha Korkosz said.

About 66 of Hooksett's 148 eighth-graders, or about 44 percent of the class, have been reassigned to schools outside of Manchester, predominantly to Pinkerton Academy and Londonderry High School.

Candia, which also sends students to Manchester, has claimed informally that Manchester is in breach, but the town has shied away from taking legal action. Eighteen of Candia's 54 eighth-graders, or about 33 percent, have been reassigned to other high schools.

Hooksett pays Manchester $8,500 per student. With between 66 and 70 students (the figure Manchester has claimed) reassigned, the city district stands to lose $561,000 to $595,000. From Candia, the city stands to lose $153,000.

Hooksett School Board Vice Chairman David Pearl said he's "comfortable that we are in total compliance with the contract. I base that on the language in the contract."

The contract says the district will send all of its high school students to Manchester but allows exceptions for students who petition their district's school board to attend a different school on a case-by-case basis.

Each of the students in question have been individually approved by the Hooksett School Board. Nowhere in the contract is a limit or percentage specified.

"They have never communicated to us any limits they perceive," Pearl said.

Members of the School Board also contend the contract lays out a precise procedure in the event of disputes, requiring the boards to attempt to resolve the issue among themselves, and failing that, taking them to the state Board of Education.

"I'm not really sure who they're going to get an injunction from, because that's not how our contract puts forward a negotiation if we don't agree," Korkosz said. "We have on more than one occasion tried to discuss with the Manchester School Board an early exit from our contract, communicate about the issues, and they canceled a meeting in December and are not speaking."

The Hooksett School Board relaxed the procedure for parents attempting to send students to high schools out of the city in October as anxiety about overcrowded classrooms lingered. Rather than forming a new policy, the board reverted to an older procedure that had been tightened in 2011, allowing parents to petition the superintendent and then come before the School Board for an individual vote.

The policy has been described by some parents in the town as "a blessing."

bclogston@newstote.com


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