Hooksett reverts to former policy on attending non-city high schools, hears from Manchester on overcrowding
At the School Board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 2, the board members voted to restore the former policy. They also heard from Manchester Superintendent Dr. Thomas Brennan, who asked for patience with the city’s overcrowding issue.
The policy, called JCB, states that parents must receive approval from the School Board before moving their children to another school. Traditionally, parents only had to show that they could pay any extra tuition, provide transportation and show that their students had been accepted to the school. Last year, however, the policy was amended, requiring parents to prove “manifest educational hardship.” The vote reverts the policy to its original requirements.
The restrictive policy had been controversial in the town, both for how quickly it had been instituted, and how radically it altered parents’ ability to move their children.
“My daughter went to Pembroke three years ago. I sent in a two-line e-mail to the superintendent and was basically told ‘Congratulations. You’re all set,’” said board member David Pearl, who ran for School Board in part because of this issue. “Then last November, when the language was changed, the parents had to prove hardship and were being taken to non-public sessions of the School Board, being asked questions, and being disallowed. It was quite a shock to parents.”
The change of school issue has taken on increased attention as Hooksett’s concerns over overcrowding at Manchester Central have increased.
“I’ve received a number of e-mails from people that want this to go through so that it gives them that freedom as they deal with Manchester,” said Pearl. “I’ve heard from a number of parents that say exactly that: ‘I don’t want to go now, but I want to know that I can.’”
Earlier in the night, the Central crisis dominated the meeting. In a frank response to the Hooksett School Board’s letter accusing Manchester High School Central of being in breach of contract with the town due to classroom overcrowding, Brennan cautioned that while improvement had been made at Central, the problem would not be solved within the school year.
“The likelihood that we will have the staffing to ensure that all courses at Central will be below 30, I’m not too optimistic about. But we will reduce the number,” Brennan said at the Hooksett School Board meeting. “I know the agreement, and understand what it says in terms of school approval. And my meetings here before, I never held back, so I want to make it clear that we’re trying. But right now, I believe I’m at the end of my allotment in terms of staffing.”
Brennan insisted that no classes would contain more than 40 students going forward, and, based on information he received from the school’s principal, math classes will be down to 30 or fewer. Social studies, English and international language remain areas of concern, however.
He also invited the Hooksett School Board to meet with the Manchester School Board to discuss the issue and possible solutions, including the potential use of Manchester West as an alternative to Central. Later in the night, the School Board instructed Hooksett Superintendent Dr. Charles “Phil” Littlefield to schedule the meeting.
Responding to other concerns listed in the letter sent by the School Board which first accused the Manchester school of being in breach, Brennan noted that although some students remained without textbooks, orders had been made to amend the issue. He also disputed the allegation that three class levels had been merged into a single class. He admitted that two levels had been combined, but suggested that this is not uncommon.
School Board members struggled after Brennan’s response with apparent contradictions between the Manchester superintendent’s statement and accounts given by Hooksett parents.
“There are still 40 kids in classes in Manchester. Kids are counting,” board member Trisha Korkosz said. “They go to school and they tell their parents there’s 40 kids in this class, there’s 38 in that class, and he’s telling us that they’re all below 40. I don’t want to call someone a liar in public, but how do we verify something when what parents tell us and the school district tells us don’t match?”
Littlefield responded to Korkoz by speaking to a disconnect he believes exists between the Manchester administration and its schools. “I think a lot of things are happening and a lot of things are going on that Tom (Brennan)couldn’t possibly be aware of.”
Later in the meeting, the School Board voted to have a public forum on Tuesday, Oct. 16, explaining the situation and the town’s options should Central ultimately be found not to be in breach of contract. Board member David Pearl, the initial proponent of the forum, also said he hopes it will provide an opportunity to gather concern’s from the community to bring to the Manchester Board, and also assess the public’s will to move from Central regardless of the school’s standing under the contract.
“I feel that there is a will now to leave Manchester and a thought that that’s going to happen with breach of contract,” Pearl said. “My concern is, if that doesn’t happen, what option do we have this year to take care of next year? I would like to explain that to the public.”
UPDATED: Manchester police say home invasion preceded fatal shooting at Lake Avenue apartment
Local IRS workers protest cut in paycheck