The Board of Education on Tuesday discussed changes to its racial imbalance plan that would bring a preschool program to Dwight Elementary School.

"Dwight is a school that, quite frankly, is looking for kids, the school has the room, the community is interested," Superintendent of Schools David Title said, adding that parents could keep their children there after preschool, if they want. "The goal here is to improve the racial imbalance at McKinley."

The revision was made in an effort to lower McKinley Elementary School's percentage of minority students in compliance with a state law requiring a school's percentage of minority students to be no more than 25 percentage points more than its district's overall percentage. In August, state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor sent a letter asking the district to devise a way to reduce the school's 47.5 percent minority enrollment because it is 26.81 percentage points higher than the district's overall average of 18.89 percent.

The preschool program at Dwight, which has a 15 percent minority rate, would bring McKinley "well under the 25 percentage point threshold" if 10 of its families opted to have their children stay at Dwight over the next two years, Title said in a recent letter to Pryor. Title said it would be modeled after Burr Elementary School's preschool program.

In response to board member Perry Liu asking what level of compliance would deem the program to be successful, Title said McKinley would most likely not be off the state's "radar" until it reached a minority level of 15 percent.

"Being this close to the line, you'd like to get yourself well under the line to get off the radar screen," he said.

Liu asked if the district needs to change how it addresses the racial imbalance issue at McKinley, for which Fairfield has been on a state racial imbalance list for the past four years.

"Maybe we should re-evaluate how we should be looking at this," he said.

The board in February 2011 endorsed a plan to move that school's preschool program to Fairfield Warde High School's Early Childhood Center to lower its minority percentage 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.

That plan amends a previous strategy permitting students to "opt out" of McKinley to go to other elementary schools in town after it was included four years ago on a state list of schools over the racial balance limit.

The plan also calls for elimination of the "opt-out" provision at McKinley, given it has had negligible impact with 25 white students and 28 non-white students leaving the school, the letter states. The strategy also recommends keeping the "opt-in" provision for McKinley, where 18 white students and 11 non-white pupils have come to the school.

It also proposes eliminating the Racial Diversity Task Force, given that it is the district's view that it does not play a major role in recommending changes to the plan.

The board may vote on the proposed plan at its next meeting Nov. 27.

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