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Another View: John Lyscars -- Hooksett can lead NH and the nation as a school choice model

March 20. 2014 11:10PM

As a Hooksett School Board member, I have been touting the benefits of school choice for well over a year now. Developing school relationships that benefit the vast array of learning styles for both our regular and special education students and matching those styles with the plethora of opportunities that surround our community is where I believe the future of public education is moving. New Hampshire is about to lead the way, beginning in Hooksett and Manchester.

Hooksett is proceeding towards this idea slowly, as change is always difficult for communities, especially when that change affects their children so much. By introducing the idea of memorandums of understanding (MOUs), which is not a new concept, and the idea of an “anchor” school, we are slowly beginning to allow the community to wrap their heads around a new concept. This is leading us toward the final model of multiple school districts of record, or anchor school(s), joined collaboratively with multiple satellite school options.

This forward-thinking concept for 21st century learning is about to become a reality for those school districts that can recognize the opportunity and quickly shed the ideas of older, static and stale contracts with fixed terms. New tuition contracts for schools of record, combined with MOUs for the satellite options, will provide incoming revenue streams to the receiving school districts that step up to compete with the surrounding school districts by offering outstanding educational products for the children of the sending school districts. This vision also conveniently aligns perfectly with our “good to great” model that has always defined Hooksett’s vision for her students.

So far, Manchester, Hooksett, Bow and Londonderry are leading the way and have established tuition agreements (Manchester) as well as MOUs (Londonderry and Bow) that have been ratified by all parties. In good faith, I am hopeful that Hooksett will soon negotiate a new agreement with Manchester, which should be ratified as well in the near future.

Pinkerton is a bit slow to react, however they have long-standing tradition and multiple existing sending districts to coordinate, which is no simple task. However, the writing is on the wall, and Pinkerton should see this as an opportunity to look into its future. I am hopeful that instead of choosing declining enrollments, competition from charter schools, and increased tuition for the existing sending districts, they choose 21st century collaborative relationships with sending districts like Hooksett.

The tuition and MOU agreements must have requirements to allow the receiving school districts the ability and time to properly plan for budget cycles each year. They also must have tuition projections and a maximum number of students allowed to enroll each year to let Hooksett parents understand the limitations and possible out-of-pocket expenses that may apply.

The agreements need firm deadlines for application and confirmation, and tuition projections that extend four or five years out. They should include maximum numbers of students, but not minimums.

I believe Hooksett should provide bus transportation for the anchor schools, as they usually can accommodate all of the children, so we need to ensure equal opportunity, including transportation, moving forward. We must continuously study the transportation model to see if we can, in a fiscally responsible manner, provide high school transportation for all of Hooksett’s children who attend schools in larger groups (45+) that would justify sending a minimum single school bus to that school. Transportation must also be made efficient, as it is wasteful to send multiple buses that are underused. We definitely can and will do better in this area.

These are exciting but dynamic times. We should not allow the pressure of closing time windows to affect our business decisions for Hooksett’s children, families and taxpayers. We may have to leave behind some school districts that are indecisive, but my hope is that the superintendents will come to reasonable agreements soon, even if that means they need to work out temporary agreements to provide relief for the 8th grade parents while the final contracts are hammered out in the upcoming months.

John Lyscars is a member of the Hooksett School Board. These views are not approved by the full Hooksett School Board. They represent the views of the author only.

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