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High school negotiations begin

HOOKSETT - As Hooksett enters into negotiations with Manchester for an early release from its high school contract, the Hooksett School Board is beginning to consider where to send high school students, voting unanimously to form a subcommittee to hold formal discussion with public high schools in the region on the possibility and the details of a future contract.

The subcommittee, which will consist of School Board members Trisha Korkosz and Michael Dubisz, as well as Superintendent Dr. Charles 'Phil' Littlefield, will not technically be negotiating, but rather formally discussing factors such as cost, interest, timelines, and the numbers of students which may be accepted with the area schools in anticipation of a future contract.

'I was under a misconception when all of this was going on … that while we are under contract with Manchester, we cannot negotiate with another school, and that's not correct,' said School Board member David Pearl, who initiated the motion.

'We can negotiate with another school, but we cannot finalize the negotiation, we can't make a contract,' he said. 'When I figured all of that out and confirmed it, I figured, what is restricting us at this point from negotiating?'

Pearl said time is short.

'I want to pick what works best, but I also see the clock, the calendar ticking away,' he said. 'We have voted to begin negotiations to end something, but we have not voted to start anything, and I don't think we want to wait much longer, because (otherwise)we're going to be caught in the middle.'

The subcommittee has not officially identified any schools of interest at this time. Schools that have been recently discussed as options by the board, however, include Pembroke Academy, Londonderry High School, Pinkerton Academy, and Goffstown High School or Bow High School. The final two would be mutually exclusive as options, as New Boston debates whether to continue with Goffstown or move to Bow, potentially freeing space at the former and filling capacity at the latter.

Subcommittee member Trisha Korkosz also noted that due to the large number of parents with strong feelings of loyalty and tradition for Manchester High School Central, Hooksett may attempt to pursue an agreement which would allow for a continuing relationship between the two districts.

Pinkerton Academy has drawn the most attention as Hooksett's best possible alternative to the overcrowded Manchester High School Central, where 401 of Hooksett's 686 high school students currently attend. At this time, Pinkerton is the only school prepared to accept all of Hooksett's high school students, according to Littlefield.

Pinkerton has expressed qualified interest in Hooksett.

'It's all in the implementation, and the implementation starts with a plan,' said Chip Underhill, a Pinkerton Academy official. 'We'd have to say, 'How do we do this?' Hooksett would have to lay out a plan for us.'

A single school contract may not be the only option on the table now, however. The local grassroots organization Higher Education Lifts People has been fielding a proposal in recent weeks to sign multiple contracts with area schools, allowing parents a choice. Some schools, such as Bow High School, are capable of taking a portion of Hooksett students, and, as their freshman class sizes begin to drop, and optimal capacity becomes increasingly difficult to maintain, may be inclined to take such a deal. Bow has a capacity of 660 students with only 511 students enrolled. The number is projected to drop below 450 by 2020.

The Hooksett School Board seems to have been listening. A part of the subcommittee's work will in effect be to investigate the viability of this option, gathering data on its cost and logistics to weigh against the single school option.

While the details of such a course are shaky, the raw idea seems to have resonated, prompting Pearl to wonder: 'If we go with more of a multiple school contract, do we turn the fact that we don't have a high school here from a deficit to an asset?'

Outside of Manchester Central, 154 Hooksett students attend Manchester West and 76 attend Trinity High School. Smaller numbers attend other area schools, including 18 at Pembroke Academy, 10 at Pinkerton and six at Bow.

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