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Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and Superintendent Debra Livingston were among the six Queen City officials present to negotiate with their Hooksett counterparts Wednesday night. (RYAN O'CONNOR/Union Leader Correspondent)

Hooksett and Manchester take first step toward future high school deal

HOOKSETT — Entering Wednesday night’s meeting with the members of Manchester’s five-member negotiations subcommittee, Hooksett School Board Chairman Joanne McHugh and her counterparts, Mike Berry and Amy Boilard, had one question they wanted addressed first.

“We want to discuss the matter of whether Hooksett students will be able to complete four years in Manchester if they should start there before the end of our current contract,” McHugh asked her Manchester peers.

The Manchester delegation — Mayor Ted Gatsas, Superintendent Debra Livingston and school board members Kathy Staub, Christopher Stewart, Sarah Ambrogi and Erika Connors — expressed interest in providing an affirmative answer, but sought some assurances of their own.

“I think it’s fair to say our board and our community definitely wants Hooksett and wants to promote a long-term relationship,” said Stewart. “But I have to say, I feel like I’m getting whiplash a little but because last year at this time you were trying to get out of our contract, and now it seems you want to get back into it.”

Last year, Hooksett negotiated an early break from its 20-year contract with Manchester. The mediated settlement resulted in a five-year deal that allowed current Hooksett high schoolers to continue attending Central and West, while providing the district leverage to negotiate a long-term deal with Pinkerton Academy of Derry.

The resulting 10-year pact with Pinkerton was rejected by voters in March, prompting Hookett’s school board to reach out to Manchester to reopen talks.

“I think our intent was to begin discussions that will address some short-term issues ... and start talking about a long-term agreement now,” said Hooksett Superintendent Charles Littlefield, who also attended the meeting. “We don’t want to wait until 2016. We will be talking to Pinkerton as well, and I think it makes more sense that both agreements be discussed contemporaneously.”

When asked what Hooksett is looking for, in addition to a promise Hooksett students will be able to finish high school where they start, McHugh said she and fellow board members hope to work out a renewable five-year deal with Manchester, and likely Pinkerton as well, while also maintaining memorandums of understanding with Bow, Londonderry and Pembroke Academy.

While recognizing the longstanding relationship between Hooksett and Manchester, members of both parties expressed a desire to work out a fair agreement that provides the proper wording to allow Hooksett students to graduate in Manchester if they begin there.

Livingston suggested addressing Hooksett’s concern by creating a rolling agreement and scheduling meetings each year for the two sides to negotiate tuition for those students who remain past the current deal.

Littlefield agreed to provide Livingston copies of Hooksett’s current MOUs with other school district as a jumping off point.

“I was hoping we could start talking about a framework for a long-term agreement, or thinking we can say, ‘Let’s get this short-term issue addressed by early September and then meet again in, say, late September and start talking about something that goes beyond 2018,’” said Littlefield.

Ambrogi suggested locking up an agreement addressing the short-term concerns for each side and producing some positive momentum before jumping into long-term negotiations.

The two subcommittees set a tentative date for their next meeting for Sept. 17.

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