By BETH LaMONTANGE HALL
NewHampshire Union Leader
and CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- The Auburn School Board has approved a 20-year contract with Pinkerton Academy to send the town’s high school students to the Derry school.
If the contract is approved by Auburn residents at the annual school district meeting in March, the town will begin reducing the number of teens attending school in Manchester as early as the 2013-2014 school year.
SAU 15, which includes Auburn, Candia and Hooksett, pays tuition to send its high school students to Manchester. About 200 Auburn students attend Memorial High School, four attend Central High School and two are at West High School. For each student, the city’s school district gets $8,300. This means Manchester stands to lose about $1.7 million per year if Auburn sends its students elsewhere.
If voters accept the contract, Auburn would give the required two-year notice of termination. In September 2013, students entering their freshman year of high school would attend Pinkerton, while the upper classes would finish high school in Manchester — similar to the arrangement the district made when Bedford built a high school and moved its students from West.
Manchester School District was notifi ed of the decision via letter.
“Please understand the board and the people of Auburn believe the students in Auburn have been wellserved in Manchester and the board’s decision to pursue voter approval of this high school plan is not a reflection on Manchester’s efforts to educate Auburn students,” wrote SAU 15 Superintendent of Schools Charles Littlefield. “As the Auburn board looks to its long-term future, however, the board has simply decided to pursue the possibility of a longterm relationship with Pinkerton.”
Taken by surprise
The decision took the members of the Manchester Board of School Committee by surprise, especially because SAU 15 and Manchester have been meeting regularly to discuss changes and improvements to the city’s high schools. The Joint High School Committee met in April and the two districts discussed creating a charter or academy school at West High School.
“I think Memorial is a wonderful high school. I’m wondering what precipitated this ,” At-Large School Committee member Debra Gagnon Langton said Monday. “Is it the citizens in Auburn or the school board in Auburn? I would like to find that out. ... I never thought they’d take action that quickly.”
More than 150 parents attended a school board meeting about switching to Pinkerton in May. Parents said they supported the move because of more extensive course offerings at Pinkerton and worries over budget cuts in Manchester.
“We added 12 more teachers, added an assistant superintendent and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen gave the city a $3.2 million loan for books,” School Committee Vice Chairman David Gelinas said. “Perception is always a problem. ... They obviously weren’t paying attention.”
Hints that Auburn parents wanted to send their students elsewhere also emerged earlier this month. Mayor Ted Gatsas brought in legal counsel to the Nov. 8 school board meeting to discuss whether Auburn’s high number of petitions to move students to Pinkerton for a “special exception” was violating the contract between SAU 15 and Manchester.
Attorney Brad Cook said it likely was, since exceptions are only to be granted on a caseby- case basis; more than 100 students from Auburn now go to Pinkerton.
“If there are students being sent out of this district to other high schools and the sending towns are paying for them, that’s a loss of revenue for us,” Gatsas said.
Resistance in Derry
For the past several years, Pinkerton has asked boards to consider bringing select groups of Auburn students into the school, an idea that Derry School Board Chairman Kevin Gordon said has been met with some resistance in Derry.
“The (Pinkerton) population a few years ago was right up there and we didn’t want to see our Derry kids not have access to sports or educational opportunities,” Gordon said. “We have to protect our Derry kids. That’s our job.”
Pinkerton doesn’t need permission from its current sending schools to open a new contract, but each sending school board must sign off on requests to allow off-contract students to enroll. With assurances from Pinkerton officials that Derry students would not lose out, Gordon said the board voted to allow several dozen Auburn students to enroll this fall.
“It’s a Catch-22 because we have to allow students to come in to PA to keep the tuition down,” he said.
Derry has yet to be officially notified of the Auburn contract proposal, but Gordon said he’s open to the idea if it will bring down costs to Derry taxpayers.
“It might benefit us in the future if they allow the town of Auburn to come in, so I’ll keep an open mind,” he said. “But it is what it is. They have to maintain a quota and we have no control over that.”
Room for more
Pinkerton officials have outlined a $34.9 million budget for next year that would cut nearly a dozen faculty positions and increase tuition by 3.65 percent to $9,712 per student. Total enrollment for next year is projected to reach 3,100 students, down 130 from the current year. Gordon said Pinkerton staff have said that 3,800 students is a more ideal target to fill out the school’s current infrastructure. And with a new freshman academy building coming online in August, Pinkerton could use the extra students, said Robin Perrin, who spoke on behalf of the school Monday.
“It helps the school in the sense that we might not have to lay off as many teachers next year and we might save some courses,” he said. “And it helps the sending towns by bringing down tuition.”