Split Vote Continues Hooksett Talks with Pinkerton Academy

In a split vote, the Hooksett School Board agreed to continue to pursue talks with Pinkerton Academy after concessions offered in a meeting this past Monday night.
The Hooksett board voted 3-2 to continue the negotiations, with members David Pearl and John Lyscars the dissenting votes.
The meeting was held in the Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton and was open to the public. A handful of Hooksett parents and interested residents attended along with the Pinkerton Board of Trustees, the Hooksett board, and the legal counsel for the two entities.

Linda Johnson, attorney for Pinkerton, served as moderator and introduced both boards. She outlined the agenda: a statement by Pinkerton, a statement from Hooksett, a discussion between boards and public comment.
At issue was a requirement by Pinkerton that after five contract years, all but 10 percent of Hooksett high school students would be required to attend Pinkerton. Hooksett board members, specifically Pearl and Lyscars, objected for several reasons, including that the 10 percent requirement would cause any contract to fail at the polls in March.
Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson reviewed the proposed contract, which would allow Hooksett to send all but 75 students from each class to other schools for the first five years, and up to 10 percent for the last five years. “We know choice is important to Hooksett – but it’s also important for Hooksett to have a high school of record,” Anderson explained.
But from Pinkerton’s perspective there is a need to plan, she said, and a need to stabilize programs by stabilizing enrollment.
Hooksett Board Chairman Trisha Korkosz said Hooksett wanted to have a face-to-face negotiation with Pinkerton because of the outstanding issue of the 10 percent. “We would like to have a higher number allowed to go to other schools, or a re-negotiation after five years,” she said. “Our community is different from yours. There are geographical issues. Our community needs an opportunity to mend from previous relationships, and to forge new ones.” Korkosz was referring to the district’s long-term relationship with Manchester, which was severed last year.
Korkosz warned that the 10 percent would not pass on a warrant article.
Anderson said the 10 percent was the norm for sending districts, and had been so since the 1960s.
Johnson expanded on that, noting that Hampstead and Chester actually send 5 percent of their students to other schools and only Derry is allowed the 10 percent. Hooksett is physically the size of Hampstead, she said, so the 10 percent “was a concession on Pinkerton’s part.”
Anderson also said that if students have already started with another school district, they will be allowed to finish with that district and would not be part of the 10 percent. “It’s best for them to finish where they are,” she said.
Hooksett board member Phil Denbow called that proposal excellent, but noted that children in the northernmost areas of Hooksett would have a long commute, and some already have siblings in Londonderry. “We wouldn’t be here,” he said, “if we didn’t want Pinkerton, but we have some diehard ‘Manchester people.’ That’s why 10 percent seems a little restrictive to me.”
The Pinkerton board agreed to move the 10 percent requirement to begin in the sixth year rather than the fifth at Korkosz’s request. She noted that Hooksett currently has five-year Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with other districts.
“It will be five years before the opt-out kicks in,” Anderson said, adding, “By then you’ll know if it’s not working.”
Denbow said he had no issue with Pinkerton – “Obviously, this school speaks for itself. It’s a great school.” But he warned that even after five or six years, some of his constituents would be “geographically challenged.”
“This is not temporary,” he said. His son is at Pinkerton and he’s happy with it, he said. But for other parents, “The distance limitations are not going to go away.”
Pinkerton board president Harry Burnham said some of the East Hampstead students travel 20 miles, and Anderson said that Londonderry is the same distance from Hooksett as Pinkerton. Further, she said, she looked at the demographics of Hooksett’s current eighth grade, and it’s not an issue, she said, adding, “The majority of the students are 20 minutes away.”
But it’s not just distance, Hooksett board member John Lyscars said. It’s tradition and familiarity. He lives “in the backyard of Bow,” one of the current MOU schools, and his son didn’t like Bow, he said.
“It’s more than mechanics, it’s human beings,” Lyscars said.
Johnson said Pinkerton would not want to revisit the arrangement in five years. “We have a 10-year contract – it is what it is,” she told the boards. Hooksett’s choice, she said, is a long-term contract or a shorter MOU.
Denbow said, “At the end of the day, with our specific situation, it will be tough to get this past the voters. The 10 percent will be a tough one for us.”
Lyscars read a two-page written statement in which he noted, “This is a moment in time that will not come again.” The decisions made by the collective boards will, he wrote, “change our children’s lives forever.”
He asked the joint boards, “Would you collectively do something that would cause complete chaos in your neighbors’ lives?”
Unlike Auburn, he said, Hooksett hasn’t had two years to mull a contractual agreement. Hooksett is also a larger town, he said. He reviewed the separation from Manchester, which cost Hooksett $200,000 and a tuition increase for the children remaining in Manchester.
Lyscars lined out four options: a contract with restrictions, which will fail; a contract without limits, which would be “a model leading the way for the state of New Hampshire;” a potential MOU to take current eighth-graders; or a plan to work out an agreement for the eighth-graders who want to go to Pinkerton for high school.
“This is your opportunity to show the world that Pinkerton is strong,” Lyscars said. He also invoked the late Nelson Mandela.
Johnson summarized the concessions Pinkerton is willing to make: clarifying what the 10 percent will include, adding language to allow the 10 percent to begin after the fifth year, and allowing students currently in MOU schools to stay.
The mechanics of the meeting came under fire when Korkosz suggested polling the board to go forward with negotiating a tuition agreement for 2014-15. Pearl said, “This meeting was represented to us as a meeting where a decision would be made…that we’d come out of here with an agreement, or not. I’m ready to have an answer.” He called for a formal vote on an agreement.
Hooksett attorney Sarah Murdough countered that it was her understanding that Pinkerton still needed to vote on the proposed changes, and that there was not a full board at the meeting. “I think it’s prudent to have Hooksett take a poll on its commitment to going forward,” she said.
Johnson said the meeting had been represented to her as a dialogue between the two entities.
Pearl said, “We can’t vote on an agreement tonight.” But he lobbied for and received a vote on whether to continue with negotiations.
The Hooksett board vote was 3-2 and the board will discuss the proposed contract in its Dec. 17 meeting.
Hooksett residents in attendance were often critical of their own board, with Jim Michaud congratulating the Pinkerton trustees on their “professional demeanor” and Carrie Hyde saying, “Our board has trouble making decisions. I’d like to see an MOU in case the contract gets voted down.”
And resident Mark Messina told Lyscars and Pearl, “When we’re left with Manchester as our only school, that will be on you, Dave and John.”