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Hooksett confident contract to send students to Pinkerton doesn't violate Manchester settlement

HOOKSETT — After receiving legal opinions, the Hooksett School Board is confident the 10-year sending contract it signed with Derry's Pinkerton Academy does not violate a settlement the school district reached with Manchester in June to terminate a 20-year sending contract four years early, board Chairman Trisha Korkosz said.

The settlement calls for Hooksett to negotiate with Manchester on a new sending contract by 2016.

"This agreement will not prevent us from negotiating with Manchester in good faith. Moving forward, we could negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with Manchester," Korkosz said.

Manchester has sent a letter to Hooksett saying the district was in breach of the settlement, and the Manchester Board of School Committee has authorized legal action if necessary.

"The letter said that we are in breach because we didn't give them an estimate on how many incoming freshman will be attending next year. That is a matter of debate; we feel our superintendent did give their superintendent an estimate. Also, they were made well-aware of the situation with the incoming freshmen," Korkosz said.

However, Hooksett board member John Lyscars, who voted against the Pinkerton contract, said he's leaning toward Manchester's legal interpretation of the matter.

"I am no lawyer, but I feel comfortable in saying that what happened (Tuesday night), I take it the same way as Manchester. I think there was some trust established in the settlement, a way to look forward, and I think Manchester will look at that settlement and see a restrictive contract with Pinkerton is not a good-faith negotiation," Lyscars said.

Board Vice Chairman David Pearl, who also voted against the contract, said that while he is not sure legally what "good faith" means, he knows enough to be concerned.

"We should have addressed this in August. I think that Manchester has a valid point that they were not provided with an estimate, and I think the language that is in the settlement should have had much more definition," Pearl said.

The full Manchester school board does not meet again until Jan. 13. Manchester officials said no special meeting has been called to discuss the Hooksett contract with Pinkerton.

Before the contract can take effect, it must go before the Pinkerton Board of Trustees as well as Hooksett voters in March. Korkosz said district lawyers are expected to write the warrant article by Jan. 7.

"Then we will discuss and vote on it," Korkosz said.

If voters reject the contract, Manchester will remain the school of record, board members have said.

Pearl also said he would have liked to have seen the board work create a definitive process for how students apply for assignment to a school that is not Pinkerton and was disappointed that it didn't happen.

"Our superintendent will be having meetings with parents of eighth-graders to discuss how to opt out of Pinkerton if they wish to do that," Korkosz said.

When discussing the contract before the meeting Tuesday night, Hooksett Superintendent Charles Littlefield said a minimum of 75 percent of students per class would need to attend Pinkerton for the first five years of the deal. According to a copy of the contract obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader, the number is actually 75 students per class, not 75 percent.

Not long after the contract was signed, Hooksett social media was full of residents discussing the contract.

"It is imperative that we organize and distribute accurate information to the voters," Yvonne Preston wrote on the Hooksett Banner page. "It is unfortunate, but after the display from a school board member last night at the meeting, we will probably see a lot of inaccurate information to instill fear with the voters. It is time for the Hooksett community to come together for the future of our kids and our town."

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