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Hooksett rejects Manchester class size cap proposal

HOOKSETT - A cap on class sizes at Manchester high schools received a unanimous thumbs down this week from the Hooksett School Board, squashing any hopes the cap might ease the fissure between Manchester and its sending towns.

Hooksett school officials said they like the idea of capping class sizes at 30, but they dislike the flip side of the policy - that most classes with 15 or fewer students would be cancelled. The proposed policy calls for enrolling those students into virtual, online courses.

"As I read the first line of this, I was really excited that they were going to enforce the 30 (student limit)," said school board member David Pearl. "But I think it has a devastating effect on many classes that are needed for graduation, that are needed to complete courses of study."

He also expressed doubts the virtual classroom solution would even come close to making up for the eliminated courses.

The board voted to have Superintendent Charles Littlefield draft a letter expressing disapproval of the class cap proposal.

In Manchester, Mayor Ted Gatsas and Superintendent Tom Brennan said they would reserve comment on the Hooksett vote until they read Littlefield's letter.

Gatsas said that Hooksett has declared Manchester in breach of a contract to adequately educate Hooksett high school students. He said he would likely refer comments to the lawyer that the Manchester school district has hired to handle the issue.

Last month, Manchester school board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee recommended a proposal that would prohibit regular classrooms with more than 30 students and labs the exceeded 24 students.

The policy also calls for the cancellation of most courses with fewer than 15 students enrolled; virtual, online courses would be offered for the under-enrolled courses. Exceptions would be made for special education students and English of Speakers of Other Languages classes.

But Hookett board members and residents expressed concern about the slashing of advanced-placement classes and classes required for seniors to complete a course of study.

Jen Leger, a resident, said 174 classes - 29 percent of high school offerings - were below 15 students, according to an October 2012 class size list released by Manchester schools. Those classes included Accounting 1, French 4, German 3 and computer graphics 1 and 2.

School board members said the letter will show that the school board is still paying attention to Manchester schools, despite strained communications following the declaration of a breach of contract.

"It tells Manchester that we're paying attention to what they're doing, even though they're not communicating with us," said school board Chairwoman Trisha Korkosz.

Littlefield said he has encountered difficulties getting up-to-date class size information from the district.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this article.

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