FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Dwight School will host Fairfield’s newest prekindergarten program next fall. Superintendent David Title hopes the addition will help resolve the racial imbalance at McKinley School.
“This is an issue we need to take some action on,” Title told the Board of Education before it approved the plan Tuesday. “If we don’t do this, then we have to do something else.”
Under state law, no one school in a district can have a nonwhite student population more than 25 percentage points greater than the district’s average. McKinley School had a nonwhite population of 45.7 percent in 2011-12, compared with a districtwide average of 18.89 percent, making it less than 2 percentage points above the threshold.
Fairfield’s school board has received warnings about the problem since 2006. To correct the issue, the town instituted an “opt-in/opt-out” program, allowing families to request a transfer to or from McKinley. On Tuesday, the school board decided to continue the “opt-in” portion, which would bring families from other neighborhoods to McKinley but canceled the part of the program that allowed McKinley families to change schools.
A preschool program also began at Burr School last school year. Fairfield’s prekindergarten classes tend to have a higher proportion of minority students, so the program was designed to bring up the districtwide average. Preschool students also have the option of staying at Burr through graduation no matter which district they live in.
Dwight School will host a similar preschool program next fall. The Redding Road elementary school will take in 36 3- and 4-year-olds from anywhere in town. Teacher salaries will be covered by tuition charges for some families, but the program will cost the town’s taxpayers about $100,000 for buses.
Board of Education member Perry Liu asked whether the program makes sense, because the move would only put Fairfield in compliance with the law and wouldn’t resolve the racial imbalance issue entirely. Some members also expressed concerns with putting the program in Dwight, because it was built during the same time period as Osborn Hill School and might have similar issues with PCBs.
But board member Pamela Iacono said she did not see another option other than drawing new district boundaries. Title added that Dwight was chosen because it had empty classrooms and said the program could go into any other school, if necessary.
“I don’t think the state really cares which site we use,” Title said. “Right now, Dwight’s the one where I think we’ve got an interest in filling up. … That doesn’t mean that, if for some reason that were unavailable, we couldn’t move it to a different site.”
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