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Hooksett, Manchester OK deal on schools to settle claims

The school boards of Manchester and Hooksett approved a settlement Tuesday that, pending a judge’s approval, will settle Manchester’s injunction claim against Hooksett and Hooksett’s breach claim against Manchester.

“This agreement is very reasonable; it gets us the major things that we wanted,” Hooksett school board member Phil Denbow said. “Manchester jumped, we jumped. In a mediation no one comes out scot-free, everyone’s nose gets bloodied a bit, but we had to work this out before a judge does,”

The agreement follows mediation sessions ordered by a judge. The contract between the districts for the education of Hooksett’s high school students will be terminated on June 30, 2014, with Hooksett under no obligation to send any of its students to Manchester after the upcoming school year.

The contract was scheduled to end in 2018. However, Manchester will have to accept Hooksett students until 2018. While Hooksett will gain the freedom to send its students where they wish starting next year, Manchester will receive increased tuition fees from Hooksett starting in the 2014-2015 school year, along with $200,000 to be paid out in equal installments over the next two years.

Hooksett attorney Gordon Graham said that Hooksett will continue to pay capital costs to Manchester through 2018.

“For parents concerned about their 8th graders, in terms of what their high school experience will look like, they will not be obligated to go to Manchester next year,” Graham said.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who serves as chairman of the Manchester Board of School Committee, gave the settlement a “thumbs up.” Manchester’s school board approved it 14-0 Monday night.

“We’ve had an agreement with Hooksett for 120 years,” Gatsas said. “We’re going to continue having Hooksett kids attend Manchester (schools). And certainly, it keeps us out of court.”

The agreement means a mediation session scheduled for today will not be held at Hillsborough County Superior Court North.

Saying the agreement will put Hooksett back in control of its own destiny, Graham said there are some things in the agreement for Hooksett to like and some things not to like.

“Both sides got bloodied; no one is 100 percent happy,” Hooksett School Board Chairman Trisha Korkosz said.

“I’m very optimistic about it,” said Manchester school board member Erika Connors. “I think it’s the best agreement we could come up with for all our students and puts the funds toward the districts both educating their students as opposed to long legal battles.”

Hooskett approved the agreement 3-2, with board members David Pearl and John Lyscars voting against it. Both said that more time was needed to vet the agreement, and that the public needed time to be informed about the deal.

“We should vet this publicly, especially with making such changes to the contract,” Pearl said, adding, “We are doing this at the 11th hour without the input of parents. We are driven by the court date tomorrow, and that is a mistake.”

Lyscars said that along with the public needing to look at the agreement, another legal opinion should be obtained. Pearl said that the inherent dysfunction of the Hooksett School Board is reason enough to take more time to examine the agreement.

Denbow, Korkosz and school board member Cheryl Akstin voted in favor of the agreement.

New Hampshire Union Leader Staff Writer Tim Buckland contributed to this report.

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