HOOKSETT — The Hooksett School District has agreed to enter into negotiations to send the majority of the district's high school students to Pinkerton Academy beginning the 2014-2015 school year.
Hooksett School Board Chair Trisha Korkosz said the district has agreed with Pinkerton to begin negotiations on a contract next week.
"Pinkerton is the only school that can take all of our (roughly 600) students, and I think it is important to keep as many of our students together as possible, it contributes to more of a sense of community," Korkosz said.
Pinkerton, which has 3,111 students, had an all-time high enrollment of 3,450 students during the 2004-2005 school year.
"Enrollment trends predict an eventual decline in the number of students coming to Pinkerton from our partner school districts, so the entry of Hooksett students could fill in a projected gap depending on the Hooksett district's ultimate plan for its students," Chip Underhill of Pinkerton Academy said.
Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson said that while they have agreed to negotiations, it is only the first step to a possible deal that would see Hooksett students go to Pinkerton.
"Superintendent Littlefield and I will talk about a process for identifying Hooksett's needs and Pinkerton's potential solutions. Then, we will each report to our respective boards," Anderson said.
Korkosz said that according to the state Board of Education, any deal with Pinkerton would have to be for a minimum of 10 years.
"But our hope is that the deal will only be for 10 years, we learned our lesson with Manchester, which was a 20-year deal," Korkosz said.
In terms of cost, Korkosz said there is only about a $100 difference between the current tuition at Pinkerton for sending schools, which is roughly $10,000, and what the district pays per student to Manchester.
"I think (Pinkerton) offers a very comparable educational philosophy to Hooksett. It is a very good school, and it will offer or students a lot of educational options. And any member district has two seats on the board of trustees, and that is something that is important to us after not feeling we had a voice with Manchester," Korkosz said.
Hooksett is in the last year of a sending contract with the Manchester School District, which was terminated early after a settlement was reached that got Hooksett out of the contract early and will net Manchester $200,000. Korkosz said that Pinkerton has been aware for 13 months that Hooksett has been interested in a potential contract for its high school students.
During Tuesday's Hooksett School Board meeting, parent expressed concern over the distance that some children would have to travel to get to Pinkerton.
Hooksett resident Jason Hyde said that it would take nearly 30 minutes without traffic to get his child to Pinkerton, but he added that with Derry traffic getting bad during drop off and pick up time, a real time estimate would be closer to 45 minutes.
While the majorityof students in the public school system would end up going to Pinkerton, Korkosz said that one of the negotiating parameters given to Superintendent Charles Littlefield is that roughly 30 students will be allowed to attend other high schools, no questions asked.
"Because of the distance some students would have to travel to get to Pinkerton everyday, we want 25-30 students who can go to other schools, no consequences and no discussion," Korkosz said.
Another negotiating parameter will be that Hooksett be allowed to phase its students in over the next several years, as many students remain in Manchester schools and might wish to remain through their high school years. Bus service will be provided to students going to Pinkerton once a contract is finalized, Korkosz said.
The Hooksett School Board is working up a criteria at the next school board meeting on Sept. 3 for the 30 or so students who would be allowed to attend other schools.
Board member David Pearl said he is concerned that entering into an agreement with Pinkerton could pose a problem due to the structure of the settlement Hooksett agreed to with Manchester.
"I stated last night that I have a concern entering into an exclusive agreement with Pinkerton because of the settlement, which says we have to negotiate in good faith with Manchester (regarding a new sending contract). The board felt there was no problem, and that we were not going to have that problem with Manchester, but I have that concern," Pearl said.
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said he was unaware that the Hooksett School Board had authorized its superintendent to enter talks with Pinkerton, but he remained confident that the bond between the town and the city would remain.
"I think it's clear we've had a 125-year relationship with Hooksett. We'll continue to have that relationship; we'll continue to have students in the Manchester district that come from Hooksett because that's where those parents want them to go," he said.
Asked if the district was prepared to accept the departure of the Hooksett students, along with the loss of tuition revenue, Gatsas said he wouldn't consider "hypotheticals."
"We came to an agreement that increases tuition by 20 percent and increases the money that we get for the cost of the buildings," he said, adding, "I think when the dust settles, we'll be fine."
Gatsas added that he didn't believe that all members of the Hooksett board were acting in the best interest of parents there. "Watching the clip of the meeting last night, I think parents in very short time are going to start weighing in," he said.
Gatsas was referring to an incident at a Hooksett School Board meeting on Tuesday when a member of the public loudly berated its members for voting to block the public display of the Manchester agreement.
The board's chairman called the police on the man, and he was arrested. The incident was posted on YouTube. Manchester Superintendent Debra Livingston echoed the desire to keep Hooksett students at city high schools. "Certainly that is their prerogative (to leave) according to our agreement," she said. "Certainly we would love to keep them here in Manchester. We think they're an extremely important part of our school community."
Union Leader reporter Ted Siefer contributed to this article.