Manchester stands to lose $1.6 million in tuition revenue as Candia students join Hooksett’s, jumping on the proverbial bandwagon headed straight to Pinkerton Academy in Derry.
Recent town meetings resulted in that new deal between Candia and Derry, as well as an agreement between Hooksett and Manchester to maintain a relationship with few strings attached.
No hurt feelings, right?
Hooksett, which already penned a deal with Pinkerton last year, voted March 8 on a new deal with Manchester — the school district with which the Hooksett School District severed ties in fantastic fashion, with lawyers and joint meetings, choice words and heated tempers.
Hooksett was released from its contract with Manchester after it cited a breach on Manchester’s part, in particular in the form of class sizes that had exceeded 30 students. When Manchester lost that battle, many lamented what seemed an end to a 100-year relationship. But there were many in Hooksett who wanted that relationship to continue.
Hooksett School Board member Amy Boilard said the same group who voted for the Pinkerton deal voted for this Manchester deal as well. On town meeting day, 460 voted in favor and 179 voted against the plan, which essentially restores a formal relationship between Hooksett and Manchester. The terms of the deal set tuition at the same rate as Pinkerton over a 10-year term with no minimum student requirements, so Hooksett can send as many or as few kids as it wants. Bus service will also continue between the city and town.
According to Boilard, this vote is a sign that hurt feelings have begun to subside, and with recent changes in both school boards, old wounds have begun to heal.
“I think Manchester has a good product, and I think if they sell it to our community, they will entice students to attend,” said Boilard, who sends her own daughter to Central High School in Manchester.
A minimum student requirement with Pinkerton does kick in on the fourth year of the contract, with a figure based on the three-year rolling average of freshmen electing to enroll at the Derry school.
Right now, about 50 percent of Candia’s new high school students are going to Pinkerton, 40 percent to Manchester and the rest to other schools like Bow High School and Londonderry High School. While Boilard doesn’t think much will change significantly with this new deal, she thinks having school choice will be attractive to folks considering buying a home in Hooksett.
The full Hooksett School Board voted in favor of the plan, but Manchester still has to sign off on it.
Candia moves on
In the meantime, Candia voted 1,090 to 113 in favor of a 20-year contract with Pinkerton. Prior to the town’s voting, the Candia School Board, the Pinkerton Board of Trustees and the New Hampshire Board of Education each voted unanimously in favor of the agreement. But Candia is still in an active agreement with Manchester that began in 2003 and technically doesn’t end until 2023. There is, however, an opt-out clause that Candia can make use of on June 1 of this year.
For Candia School Board Chair Nicole LaFlamme, breaking ties with Manchester is about doing what’s best for the whole town.
“Continuing the alliance with Manchester would continue to hurt Candia as a whole,” LaFlamme said.
She said the overwhelming reason people gave for voting in favor of leaving Manchester and sending their high school kids to Pinkerton instead was concern over the quality of education kids are getting in Manchester. Connected to that concern was a growing trend of families moving out of town or choosing not to move into to town due to the contract Candia has with Manchester.
“We know for sure from Realtors contacting us, and we’ve had plenty of families contacting saying, ‘We’re not moving into this community because of the school,’” LaFlamme said.
Add to that a cheaper tuition offered by Pinkerton, and the town was on board.
“There were really no negatives to [the deal]. Reach as far as you want — you’re not going to find a negative,” LaFlamme said.
Now, she said, things in town will begin to settle, with less uncertainty over school quality.
“We’ll stabilize tax rates. People will be able to sell their homes probably a little bit quicker. It’s not the complete elixir, if you will, but it’s going to be a help,” LaFlamme said. “I think that developers are going to be more willing to look at the land here in Candia. There’s not a lot, certainly, but there are a few parcels.”
She’s particularly excited about the possibility of new home construction.
“There hasn’t been a new neighborhood in many years. I think ’99 was the last time really we had a lot of building and it’s just dropped off since then,” LaFlamme said.
Still, the new deal won’t kick in until fall of 2018, and assuming Manchester agrees to let their students continue classes there, Candia would like to allow students who start in Manchester to have the option to graduate there.
Queen of no kingdom
For a century, the Manchester School District received hundreds of students from at least four surrounding towns. Now, it’s been largely abandoned in favor of new or existing high schools out of town. This means less money going into the district’s budget.
Candia currently pays $12,159.97 per student and has about 132 students in Manchester high schools (not including special ed students), according to LaFlamme. That’s a total of about $1.6 million, but LaFlamme says the tuition keeps going up as fewer students enroll in the district.
Manchester’s Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis wasn’t able to provide any hard numbers reflecting how the district would be affected by an exodus of Candia students starting in 2018. She said current budget projections are for the 2016-2017 school year.
“We would certainly look at the number of Candia students we have now and how it will impact us in 2019, but for next year’s budget process ... this would not impact that budget,” DeFrancis said.
Manchester’s Superintendent Debra Livingston said she couldn’t comment on the Hooksett deal as the Manchester School Board had not voted on it yet, but she said losing Candia would be bad for Manchester in more ways than just financial.
“Having Candia students as well as Hooksett and other surrounding districts in our schools has always been very positive,” Livingston said. “While we understand that Candia has taken a new direction, we still feel our schools are great schools. We have a lot of innovative, positive things happening in our schools, and that will continue.”