It appears as if paid Hookestt school employees have violated New Hampshire’s laws against electioneering. On Friday, Girard at Large received email communications alleging that administrators from the Cawley Middle School forwarded a six page synopsis of the factually flawed presentation given by the committee established by the Hooksett School board to promote passage of Warrant Article 3. We have confirmed, from multiple sources, that an email was sent home from “Cawley Middle School” to “All Cawley Middle School Parents” at 2:07 PM. It contained a six page synopsis of the presentation given by the committee established by the Hooksett School Board to promote the passage of Warrant Article 3, which seeks approval of the school board’s proposed tuition contract with Pinkerton Academy.
Superintendent Charles Littlefield did not respond to our telephone call or email inquiries on Friday.
Hooksett School Board Vice Chairman David Pearl said typically neither communications to parents nor fliers posted on school bulletin boards are allowed until and unless approved by Littlefield. He said that he received the email as a parent, not as a school board member and that he can’t recall any vote of the board which authorized the communication to parents. “There should have been,” said Pearl, given the “political content” of the flier.
The information presented to the school board by the warrant article committee came under heavy criticism for being “one sided” and “factually wrong.” Not only was there an absence of any information regarding any of the other schools the town had an option to send their high school students, an absence defended by retiring Board Clerk Cheryl Akstin as unnecessary because “everyone already knows about” them, school board members and citizens alike criticized the “tuition comparison,” which is prominently featured in the flier sent home to parents. The tuition numbers, which school board member Phil Denbow, chairman of the Warrant Article Committee, said were provided by the Business Administrator Karen Lessard, show skyrocketing tuition costs for Manchester schools versus modest increases projected for Pinkerton. To achieve the numbers, fixed costs paid to Manchester as a result of the legal settlement that made contracts with Pinkerton and other school districts possible, were counted as “tuition” paid to Manchester on a per pupil basis. The number of students was then significantly reduced over the next four years. The result of this data manipulation is that it makes it looks as if Manchester’s tuition jumps 50% over the next four years.
RSA 659:44, in its entirety reads: 659:44-a Electioneering by Public Employees. – No public employee, as defined in RSA 273-A:1, IX, shall electioneer while in the performance of his or her official duties or use government property, including, but not limited to, telephones, facsimile machines, vehicles, and computers, for electioneering. For the purposes of this section, “electioneer” means to act in any way specifically designed to influence the vote of a voter on any question or office. Any person who violates this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
While questions have been raised about Lessard’s participation with the presentation, School Board Member John Lyscars used the email to parents to ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether or not the statute was violated by either action. In an email to Assistant Attorney General Ann Rice, Lyscars wrote he had “grave concerns as an elected representative, that the Administration of the Hooksett School District is participating in electioneering law violations,” asserting he has “done all I can as an elected official, but now I feel I need to do more and act as a whisteblower.” He went on to detail not only the involvement of Lessard, but also the factual inaccuracies on the report, noting the question is a controversial one in town and that he believes the “excessive promotion of Pinkerton Academy” was designed to persuade the town on the ballot question.
Also on Friday, Girard at Large was made aware that Pinkerton Academy’s Band Director made an announced appearance at the Cawley Middle School Band’s annual Play-a-Thon. Several parents took offense to the band director’s chance arrival as he took the opportunity to plug the Pinkerton band program while freshmen from Central High, who come back each year to play with the Cawley kids during this event, were there. While there, Girard at Large was told the Pinkerton band leader asked for a show of hands of not only the kids going to Pinkerton next year, but also from the seventh and sixth graders as well.
Pearl confirmed the band leader’s appearance and said it was just wrong for that to happen noting that if the tuition contract isn’t approved by the voters, there will be no sixth or seventh graders headed to Pinkerton unless a new agreement is made. He didn’t know who made the invitation, but told Girard at Large his inquiry to Littlefield on the matter has yet to be answered. We have conflicting information regarding whether or not it was Board Chair Trisha Korkosz, who was present at the event and has led the charge for an exclusive contract with Pinkerton and whose sixth grade student is in the Cawley band, or the Cawley Middle School Band Director. Korkosz has not responded to our inquiry on the matter. Regardless of who it was, Pearl believes the questions were more evidence of the pre-election, pro-Pinkerton push designed to sway the vote.
While the Central students spoke up for their program in light of the Pinkerton band director’s actions, our sources questioned why nobody affiliated with any of the other band programs available to Hooksett students were invited there as well. Some thought it reminiscent of the prior High School Information Nights that featured only personnel and or information from Pinkerton and failed to invite officials from Manchester Central or West, Londonderry High, Bow High or Pembroke Academy.