Hooksett voters sent their School Board back to the drawing board for high school options, after a two-thirds majority of voters rejected a 10-year contract with Pinkerton Academy.
The contract was Article 3 on the warrant voted on March 11. The vote was 1,096 no to 792 yes.
The two boards began talking last year, after Hooksett successfully withdrew from its long-time tuition contract with Manchester.
Pinkerton and Hooksett executed a short-term tuition agreement for next year, allowing Hooksett eighth-graders to choose Pinkerton whether or not the contract was approved. Those students will be allowed to continue at Pinkerton for their freshman year and the rest of high school. About 108 eighth-graders have chosen Pinkerton.
The 10-year tuition contract would have required at least 75 students from each grade to attend Pinkerton from years 1 through 5, with a 90 percent attendance rate in years 6 through 10.
Hooksett students may also attend Bow, Londonderry, Pembroke Academy or Manchester schools.
The proposed contract ignited controversy, as some Hooksett School Board members and residents contended that a 10-year contract locked students into a particular school and removed their freedom of choice. Proponents of Pinkerton emphasized the expanded opportunities and courses offered.
Charles Littlefield, superintendent of School Administrative Unit (SAU) 15, covering Auburn, Candia and Hooksett, said he didn’t know what the future would hold for the district and the semi-private school in Derry. “It’s an important issue the School Board is going to have to explore very soon,” he said.
Auburn, as well as Derry, Chester and Hampstead, already tuition their high school students to Pinkerton.
The vote will have no impact on the 108 Hooksett eighth-graders who have chosen to attend Pinkerton as freshmen next year, Littlefield emphasized. Under the enrollment agreement, they will be allowed to complete their high school careers in Derry, on the town’s dime, and graduate from Pinkerton.
He isn’t sure how the vote will affect their younger brothers or sisters.
Pinkerton could remain “on the table” as a tuition school along with Bow, Londonderry, Pembroke Academy and Manchester, he said. “We need to explore how that model may differ,” he said.
Was he surprised? “Yes and no,” Littlefield said.
There were a number of factors involved, he said. The high school debate attracted a large share of the community, who also turned out to elect two new board members and vote on a “significantly increased” budget.
“It was a great unknown,” he said of the tuition agreement. “There was no mechanism to get the pulse of the community before the vote.”
He had a sense that parents of school-aged children would be supportive, he said, based on his interaction with them. “To have 108 kids out of 168 choose Pinkerton, there’s a message there,” he said of the eighth-grade selection process.
“What we didn’t have a pulse on,” he said, “was what the community members who don’t have children in school were thinking.
“It is an issue the Hooksett community is going to have to bring to closure,” Littlefield said.
Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson said in a statement, ““Pinkerton is prepared to work with the Hooksett School Board as it considers the town’s high school relationships. We appreciate board members have a lot to discuss, and we look forward to helping Hooksett however we can. Meanwhile, nearly 110 Hooksett students have chosen to attend Pinkerton next year; we’ll continue to develop their course schedules so they get off to a flying start in the fall.”