HAVERHILL — Fifteen students from Haverhill whose parents are concerned about the poor condition of one of the city's middle schools and its uncertain future are transferring into the Pentucket Regional School District.
The students will be enrolled in schools in West Newbury under the state's school choice law, which allows them to transfer there if seats are available.
The parents of the students said their children have had positive experiences with Haverhill teachers, but concerns about Hunking Middle School's deteriorated condition made them choose to move, Haverhill Superintendent James Scully said.
The students, who have either already transferred to the Pentucket district or have told Haverhill officials they are leaving for West Newbury at the end of the school year, are from Bradford Elementary School in Haverhill. Bradford Elementary students move on to the nearby Hunking School after the fifth grade.
The student exodus will cost Haverhill as much as $475,000 in state money, Scully said. That is how much the city would have received in total for the 15 students' education if they attended Haverhill schools through the 12th grade, Scully said. Haverhill receives $5,000 per student annually from the state, he said.
Hunking's north wing was closed in October over fears it could collapse, requiring the entire sixth grade to be moved to the former Bartlett School on the other side of the Merrimack River. Several Hunking teachers have complained of rashes and illnesses they believe were caused by poor air or something else in the building.
Parents of Hunking students have raised concerns about the faltering school, including its impact on local real estate values and the overall reputation of the school system, Scully said.
"The comment I have heard over and over again regarding Hunking is the dissatisfaction of parents who want their child in a decent and appropriate middle school setting," Scully said. "They see the Hunking situation as a major impediment to the school system and to the future growth of this city."
The superintendent said he expects Bradford students to continue leaving for other school districts until the Hunking situation is resolved.
Mayor James Fiorentini has asked the City Council for approval to borrow $400,000 to make temporary repairs to the Hunking building. The repairs are expected to extend the building's use by three or four years, which would allow sixth-graders to return there in September and buy the city time to come up with a plan to build and pay for a new middle school in Bradford.
Wendy Stanley, principal of Bradford Elementary School, said her school has lost several top students to the Pentucket district, which includes West Newbury, Merrimac and Groveland. Stanley said one family recently pulled second- and fifth-grade siblings out of Bradford Elementary and enrolled them into the West Newbury school.
Stanley said the parents pulled their children out of Bradford Elementary after receiving an unexpected call from Pentucket officials who offered spots in West Newbury's Page School for both children.
"Our concerns about sending our daughter to Hunking in September drove this decision," reads a note from the parents to a Bradford Elementary teacher. "The decision was not made based upon current or past teachers as we have only wonderful things to say about all the teachers and staff."
Another family that pulled its child from Bradford Elementary told Stanley it was better to make the change "sooner rather than later."
"Bradford Elementary school will miss these students as they are top students and strong role models," Stanley wrote in a letter to Scully.