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Jeff Hamilton, a teacher from another school district, was one of nearly 40 residents to speak at the public forum in Hooksett on Monday night. (Ryan O'Connor/Union Leader Correspondent)

Hooksett voters sound off on rejected Pinkerton contract

HOOKSETT – Less than two months after the Hooksett electorate rejected a 10-year contract with Pinkerton Academy, more than three dozen of those 1,818 residents who cast ballots stood before the Hooksett School Board at a public forum Monday night to express their reasons for voting one way of the other.

Of those who spoke, the room was split 2-1 in favor of the PA pact. Two residents admitted they didn't vote, but said they would have cast affirmative ballots, while three others said they preferred not to share their vote.

Pinkerton proponents pointed to the high level of education and strong assessment scores at the Derry high school, in addition to a hope for long-term stability and a desire to keep the majority of Hooksett students under one roof.

"We have seen numerous issues occur in the last couple years with the Manchester high Schools," said Dave Macpherson. "It got so bad that the Hooksett School Board decided to file a breach of contract against Manchester High Schools. During this time, the eighth-grade classes and a very tumultuous and unsettling eighth grade as they were unsure what their high school situation held until the end of their eight grade year."

Those who voted against the Pinkerton contract expressed concerns over rising taxes, lack of school choice, school size and travel time.

Jeff Knieriem said his family couldn't come up with one reason to vote for the Pinkerton pact, but many reasons to vote against it.

"The contract committed the town for a term of 10 years, that included minimum enrollments and a significant financial commitment from the town. It required this despite having absolutely no data to suggest that Pinkerton Academy was a real and viable option for the residents of Hooksett," he said. "We have no idea whether our students will be accepted into the larger school community there. We have no idea whether our students will have equal access to the school groups, leadership and athletics. We have no idea how the distance and travel issues will impact students, parents and families.

"Am I completely satisfied with the educational experience that Manchester schools offer? No," added Knieriem. "Do we as a community need to constantly demand more from Manchester? Yes. But that would be the case with any school we send our children to."

Citing a primary concern for travel time and difficulties presented by the geography of the town, Jillian Godbout said she would have voted for the deal had the contract not included a stipulation that 90-percent of Hooksett high schoolers attend Pinkerton, while Peter Farwell said his vote came down to school size.

"One of the reasons I voted against Pinkerton is because it's so big," he said. "Our children who went to Central and West were valedictorians and athletes, and they could excel at those schools. I'm just concerned our students will get lost at Pinkerton."

Jason Hyde said his "no" vote stemmed from a hesitancy to lock Hooksett taxpayers into a long-term deal.

"In no other part of our lives do we sign 10-year restrictive contracts, except maybe mortgages, and that's a completely different situation. We don't do that with cell phones, we don't do that with cable ... We have a lot of choice in this world, and I think we should take advance of the ability to to choose here and not sign another restrictive contract," said Hyde.

Still, 22 voters stood to say they supported the deal.

"In my opinion, you can't put a price tag on education and I think Pinkerton is a better option for our kids," she Lauren Kane.

"I voted 'yes' for the Pinkerton contract because I voted for the best education for my children," echoed Tracy Vogel.

Some residents requested the Pinkerton tuition agreement be extended to current Hooksett seventh graders, to which Superintendent Charles Littlefield explained that he had reached out to Pinkerton and noted officials there expressed a mutual interest in discussion the potential for an extension.

School Board Chairman Joanne McHugh closed the meeting by assuring residents that she and her peers were working diligently to collect as much data as possible in order to provide a thorough, educated decision in terms of the direction for the school district.

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