Dwight preschool program approved to address McKinley's racial imbalance
Updated 8:17 pm, Thursday, November 29, 2012
Superintendent of Schools David Title in October proposed the initiative to bring McKinley's percentage of minority students down to at least a state-mandated 25 percentage points within the school district's overall minority percentage of 18.89 percent.
McKinley's current percentage of minority students stands at 45.7 percent, which is 26.81 percentage points -- or almost 2 full percentage points -- over the state limit above the townwide figure.
Title brought forth the proposal, which passed by a 7-2 vote, after state Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor sent a letter in August asking the district to come up with a way to bring McKinley's minority enrollment within the state's guidelines.
Title told Pryor that a preschool program at Dwight, which has 15 percent minority enrollment, would bring McKinley "well under" the threshold if 10 of its families opted to have their children stay at Dwight over the next two years.
The district, which would model the preschool program after a similar one at Burr Elementary School, has been on a state racial imbalance list for four years because of McKinley.
In February 2011, the board approved moving McKinley's preschool program to Fairfield Warde High School's Early Childhood Center to lower the minority percentage-point gap from 28.7 percent to within the state limit.
It also included expanding the program for low-income children at Burr Elementary School from 20 to 36 pupils.
Board members Sue Brand and Perry Liu, who voted against the proposal, voiced concern over moving a preschool program to Dwight, given the possibility of PCB contamination in fire-proofing spray in the gym, as was found at Osborn Hill Elementary School.
"I'm quite reluctant to commit to this at this point because I don't know if that's going to be a viable site," Brand said.
Liu also said he does not see how "getting into the pre-school business" is working to bring the district within the required state limit.
"This is a plan that we've been trying to do for several years," he said. "It keeps not working."
Board member Paul Fattibene voted in favor of the motion, but said he is concerned about expanding the district's pre-school program, given the required costs and resources.
Board member Pamela Iacono said the only other solution she can see is redistricting the town's schools, but would rather see the board invest in pre-schools instead of focus on redistricting.
"The only other opportunity is to sue the state" over the racial imbalance requirements, she said.
Board of Education Chairman Philip Dwyer said he is also concerned with preschool costs and that the plan may only delay the problem for two or three more years, but supported it anyway because it provides a "reasonable response" to the state.
The plan also proposes eliminating an "opt-out" provision at McKinley, whereby students could opt to attend other schools in the district, yet keeping an "opt-in" provision for McKinley. It also recommends doing away with a Racial Diversity Task Force.
Before the vote was taken, Title presented a memo to the board showing the projected number of additional students at Dwight as a result of the program, targeted to have one-third full-tuition students, one-third half-tuition pupils and a third tuition-free students.
Like Burr, the tuition rate will be $3,500 per year, $1,750 for qualifying half-tuition students.
The school's overall enrollment would be expected to stay the same next year and then rise by five students annually to 328 pupils in 2017-18, below the school's capacity for 388 students.
The program's one-time costs include $8,927 for furniture, $11,268 for technology and $4,000 for curriculum, according to the memo.
The budget allocation for supplies will be raised by 36 students to cover other costs, as was done with Burr.
Given the projections, Title said labor costs for teachers and paraprofessionals would be covered from revenue, leaving $100,000 a year for transportation, to be offered in geographic zones.
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