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Tempers flaring over school crowding in Manchester

Union Leader Correspondent

November 09. 2012 12:12AM

Relations between the Hooksett and Manchester school boards are heating up, so much so that after both agreed to hold a joint public meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15, the meeting place became a bone of contention.

The meeting was set so the boards can discuss overcrowding at Manchester High School Central, where most of Hooksett's students go.

It follows Hooksett school officials threatening to pull their students out of the city high school after reports, at the start of this school year, that some classes had more than 30 students.

The high school agreement allows Hooksett, Candia and Auburn to terminate the contract with the city if Manchester fails to follow state standards on class sizes and other educational issues.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said that the Manchester School Board had asked Hooksett to come to West and "opinions were voiced" by members about where the meeting should take place. A telephone poll took place Thursday and the board decided to go to Hooksett.

"This needs to be worked out. It needs to be the right thing for Manchester, for Hooksett, and for the students," said Gatsas.

A couple of years ago, a task force was formed about the schools and meetings were held in both communities, he pointed out.

Up until Thursday, the Manchester board had sidestepped Hooksett's insistence that the meeting be held at Cawley Middle School in Hooksett where the town believes "the Hooksett public would be facilitated in terms of their attendance."

Instead, city school officials had offered Manchester venues. The city's initial response was the Manchester Health Department. In response to Hooksett's request to hold the meeting in town, Manchester voted at a special meeting Nov. 2 to hold the meeting at Manchester High School West.

The Hooksett School Board, however, wasn't budging. At their last meeting on Nov. 6, the board voted unanimously to reaffirm their intention to hold the meeting in the Hooksett middle school's gym. Hooksett Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles P. Littlefield noted his intent to send a letter to that effect the following morning.

"We have an issue here with venue," said Littlefield before the vote. "I think it has been this board's position that in some ways, we are the aggrieved party, and to facilitate communication with the Hooksett public, we had not asked them to drive to Manchester to witness this meeting."

The board shared Littlefield's sentiment.

"I agree that we are the aggrieved party, but even if we weren't, they're our vendor," said school board member David Pearl. "Spending the kind of money that we spend, I think if we asked to meet with any of our vendors, they probably would show up."

Board member Trisha Korkosz went even further, stating after a discussion about the possibility of suggesting a "neutral" meeting place on town/city lines, "I just think their not wanting to come here speaks volumes about what they think about us."

The Hooksett School Board voted Oct. 26 to enter into negotiations with Manchester for an early release from the town's contract with the city school district, arguing the city failed to lower classroom sizes in accordance with state standards.

The Nov. 15 meeting is meant to be a public discussion between the two boards on the issue at large and the current status of Manchester's high schools.

The motion, which was passed unanimously, authorized Littlefield and the Hooksett School District's attorney, Gordon Graham, to approach the Manchester School District in pursuit of an exit deal. The move would avoid a breach of contract fight.

If resolved soon, Hooksett could find a replacement school for students to attend starting in September. Pinkerton Academy in Derry is widely considered to be a frontrunner for Hooksett students.

Should Manchester agree to the negotiations, and should a deal be reached, a warrant article will be issued to be voted on by town residents.

Auburn has already taken steps to remove its students, with plans for them to attend Pinkerton Academy. Candia, too, is reviewing its options.

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