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Manchester Fights To Keep Students From Hooksett, Candia

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Cawley Middle School media

Manchester school officials dealing with a teacher shortage and overcrowded classrooms may soon face the loss of high school students from neighboring towns.

At a Hooksett School Board meeting on Tuesday, several parents spoke passionately about the situation in Manchester.

“Hooksett is in a position to make the right choice for all our kids…”

Hooksett resident Dave Levesque, a parent and a teacher, called for Hooksett’s departure from the Manchester School District.

“Now is the time. Get your facts in a row, I agree, and let’s get out of there. Period.”

The Manchester school district presently receives high school students from School Administrative Unit 15, which includes the three neighboring towns of Auburn, Candia and Hooksett. Auburn residents voted to end their contract with Manchester last year but had to pay a termination fee of about $300,000 to do so. Auburn students will begin to attend Pinkerton Academy in Derry starting next year.

Now, several parents in Hooksett and Candia are unhappy with worsening conditions in the three Manchester high schools.

Not all students have the textbooks they need. Class sizes are reaching up to 40 students, well over the 30 student limit stipulated in their contract. And that overcrowding may provide parents with an out. But Manchester Superintendent Thomas Brennan is fighting to keep them.

“I believe this district needs to have Hooksett and Candia, and I believe Auburn needed to stay for a variety of reasons both for our students and their students.”

Both Hooksett’s and Candia’s school boards have sent informal letters to Manchester administrators to express their frustrations. On Tuesday, Brennan presented the Hooksett board with a report. In it, he addressed, line-by-line, their concerns. Some of the issues reported, Brennan said were corrected, but some board members and parents were unconvinced.

While some parents spoke in favor of staying in Manchester, others have been asking their school boards to file a “notice of breach.” If sent to Manchester officials, it would start the clock for Manchester to address any compliance issues within one hundred eighty days.

Last week the Manchester School Board voted to authorize Brennan with the latitude to draw up the first school redistricting plan in fourteen years. Brennan was also authorized to negotiate the relocation of Hooksett students presently in Central High School to the less-crowded West High by next year. And to complicate issues, just four days after this vote, the principal of West High was suspended for reasons that were not made public.

But parent Tom Cote likes the idea of moving the students to West High.

“Personally I believe that West is an opportunity for Hooksett.”

It’s not clear yet if the proposal to move Hooksett students to West High will have any traction with the Hooksett School Board. A public forum is scheduled for October sixteenth.

In the meantime, the Superintendent of SAU 15, Charles Littlefield is meeting with school administrators in Bow, Goffstown, Londonderry and Derry. While Pinkerton is the favorite so far, one Hooksett parent, Al Legere, said the distance between Hooksett and Derry could pose other problems.

“Have we considered the length of time our students will spend on a bus? From the northwest corner of Hooksett, maybe another eight or ten stops, then drive all the way to Pinkerton. They’re gonna spend an hour and a half to two hours a day on a bus. I don’t know if that’s fair to our kids.”

Many of the frustrations expressed by Hooksett parents have been mounting for years. Primarily, parents feel like they don’t have a voice in the governing and funding of Manchester’s schools. Some have called for adding a seat on the Manchester School Board for a Hooksett representative. Meanwhile, Pinkerton offers two seats for each sending community on their own board of directors.

Superintendent Brennan will be meeting with the Candia School Board on Thursday.

Before becoming a reporter for NHPR, Ryan devoted many months interning with The Exchange team, helping to produce their daily talk show. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in Manchester with a major in Politics and Society and a minor in Communication Arts. While in school, he also interned for a DC-based think tank. His interests include science fiction and international relations. Ryan is a life-long Manchester resident.

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