Hooksett Considers Five-Year Agreement with Pinkerton

The Hooksett School Board is considering a five-year contract with Pinkerton Academy, with an opt-out clause, no minimum enrollment, a request for a later starting time and a request for a seat at the policy table.

The Hooksett board met June 24 with one item on the agenda: long-term high school options. While the district has Memorandums of Understanding or MOUs with Pembroke Academy, Bow and Londonderry, the discussion focused on its new relationship with Pinkerton and its long-standing one with Manchester.

A 10-year contract with Pinkerton failed at the polls this past March, and the Hooksett district is now in a one-year “tuition agreement” with the school.

Board chair Joanne McHugh at first opened the floor to public comment. One community member, Cara Salvas, urged the board to effect a solution. She has a child entering middle school this fall, she said. “I don’t have an answer,” she said, “but I’m begging this board to move faster and make harder choices.”

Salvas asked if the board could poll the parents of the current sixth-, seventh-and eighth-graders to get a better sense of what they wanted. “It makes sense to me,” she said.

Another woman who did not give her name said she’s spoken with many other parents, and that it benefited Hooksett to look at the two options. “A large majority want Pinkerton, but there’s also a majority who want Central,” she said. “It’s almost 50-50.”

Board member David Pearl said he has identified things he would like to see in a five-year contract, including:

• No minimum required enrollment;

• Hooksett providing bus transportation for its Pinkerton students; and

• An opt-out clause in the third year for both sides.

Pearl explained that the original 75-student minimum was “unpalatable” to many members of the community.

Board member James Sullivan agreed. “I think this addressed some of the reasons why people voted no,” he said. “Was 10 years too long, the minimum enrollment, and the distance, which we address by providing transportation.”

The lack of a minimum enrollment requirement would provide other options for students and that’s important, Sullivan said, because there are four years left on some of the MOUs.

However, he said, he would rather see a couple more one-or two-year extensions than a five-year contract, because the ultimate goal, he said, is for Hooksett to have its own high school.

Member John Lyscars said the model he endorsed would be Pinkerton as an option and solidifying the contract with Manchester.

Lyscars added that the same language should apply to the agreements with both schools.

“I would like to see a model of two school districts of record for all our kids,” he said.

Member Michael Berry also approved, noting that with the opt-out, “We almost have to have a back-up plan.”

Member Amy Boilard recommended having the same tuition amounts for both schools, “apples to apples.” Like Sullivan, she wanted to see a shorter tuition agreement rather than five years.

Boilard and Michael Berry expressed concern about consistency of curriculum with so many schools. “How can we tailor our curriculum, to make sure our children are prepared for high school?” Berry asked.

Boilard reminded the group that Pinkerton is implementing Common Core, while Manchester has a “hybrid model.”

“The Common Core is supposed to standardize curriculum, so maybe that’s an advantage,” Pearl said.

McHugh agreed with Pearl’s recommendations, including no minimum numbers and the opt-out. She also wanted to see a Hooksett representative on the Board of Trustees. “I wonder how much clout we can have,” she said, noting that Manchester used to let Hooksett participate on the committee level, giving the representatives some input. She also noted that Pinkerton will choose its representatives from Hooksett, and said, “I think it should be our choice.”

“We should participate in the budget preparation and we should participate in the creation of the school calendar,” she said.

Sullivan said that any proposed contract, in its final year, should have the provision that any student already enrolled would be allowed to finish at Pinkerton. “Ultimately, that would give us an eight-year agreement,” he said.

“It’s not necessarily an agreement – it’s a promise,” McHugh responded.

Superintendent Charles Littlefield said that once a student is accepted under a tuition agreement, the child will be allowed to graduate.

“A freshman entering in the fifth year of a contract needs to be assured of that,” he said.

The start time each day is also an issue, according to McHugh. The board’s negotiating team has discussed this with the Pinkerton Trustees, she said. “It’s not necessarily a problem, but it makes it more difficult for us. We asked them if it’s possible to change it, and we’re waiting for their response.”

The semi-private school opens 20 minutes earlier than Manchester, she said.

Another fine point is to whom a discontented child applies to change schools. “That,” Littlefield said, “is unclear. The way we handle it now is, when a parent wants to make a change, the child is sent to the registrar at Pinkerton.” But it’s an informal policy, he said, and he’d like to see something codified.

Littlefield said the extension of the tuition agreement is almost identical to the current agreement, with some dates changed and references to the 10-year contract deleted. The board voted unanimously to approve the one-year extension.