HOOKSETT — While Hooksett officials plan to vote on a 10-year high school sending contract with Pinkerton Academy of Derry on Tuesday, Manchester Mayor Ted Gastas said city attorneys are drafting a lawsuit against the Hooksett School District.
“I would think before Tuesday Hooksett will receive a letter from our attorney (stating our intention to sue) for breach of the agreement we negotiated. Beyond that, I am not going to get into a legal discussion about legal matters. I will let that play out by itself,” Gastas said.
Hooksett School Board Chairman Trisha Korkosz said the threat of a lawsuit would not stop the board from voting on a Pinkerton contract.
“This will not change our plans for Tuesday. The students of Hooksett deserve and are entitled to a high school public education at a school that not only meets state standards but exceeds them. And Pinkerton absolutely fits the bill,” Korkosz said.
As part of the contract termination settlement that was reached between Hooksett and Manchester this summer, Hooksett must negotiate a new high-school sending contract with Manchester before 2016.
“We are not in breach of our settlement. I am absolutely positive of that. I don’t think a contract with Pinkerton would inhibit our ability to negotiate with Manchester in good faith,” Korkosz said.
During the School Board meeting this summer when that the settlement was announced, board member David Pearl expressed concern that the “good faith” portion of the settlement could be a problem for Hooksett. District Attorney Gordon Graham, who helped negotiate the settlement, said that that portion of the settlement was open to interpretation and should not prevent Hooksett from negotiating with other districts. Throughout negotiations with Pinkerton, Pearl has repeatedly voiced the same concerns.
Resident Tom Cote, who has three children in the district, said that while he is not in favor of entering into a contract with Pinkerton, he still wants it done quickly.
“I think if this is going happen with Pinkerton, do it quick even though I don’t agree with it. But don’t want it to drag out. But I actually don’t think Hooksett should have even filed the breach claim to begin with. It was all a knee-jerk reaction,” Cote said.
Korkosz said she understands parents’ frustration and said the process has taken longer than anyone thought it would.
The rift between Hooksett and Manchester began a year ago when Hooksett filed a breach claim with the state Board of Education for what school officials saw as contract violations by the Manchester School District. Under the Hooksett JCB policy — which has been in existence since 2002, according to Korkosz, and allows students to request placement in high schools outside of Manchester — dozens of Hooksett students began requesting placement at other schools. After a noticeable drop in enrollment, the Manchester School District filed a lawsuit against the Hooksett School District, alleging that allowing so many students to attend other schools violated the sending contract.
As part of the court proceedings, the two sides met in court-ordered mediation sessions that resulted in a settlement that terminated the sending agreement between the two school districts four years early, a $200,000 payout to Manchester split over two years, and the understanding that the two districts would enter into negotiations on a new sending contract.
Soon after the settlement was reached, Hooksett began negotiations with Pinkerton Academy on a high school sending contract that, according to state regulations, must be a minimum of 10 years in length. While the negotiations were bumpy at times, the two sides reached an agreement on a contract that would begin next year.
After the meeting, Littlefield said no further meetings would be needed and that it would be up to lawyers for both sides to finalize the contract’s language before it was delivered to the Hooksett School Board.
Once the contract is approved by the Pinkerton board of trustees and the Hooksett School Board, it must then go on a warrant article to be voted on by Hooksett residents in March. No further action would be needed by Pinkerton once the board of trustees approves the deal.
“This would be entirely in the hands of the Hooksett School Board and voters,” Chip Underhill of Pinkerton Academy said in an email.