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State school panel backs racial-balance plan for McKinley

Updated 6:23 pm, Wednesday, February 6, 2013
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Fairfield will get another crack at racially balancing its school district by making preschool slots available in a second Greenfield Hill area school to students from McKinley Elementary School, which has fallen short of the state's racial balance guidelines for several years.

The state Board of Education meeting Wednesday in Hartford unanimously adopted the plan, which would allow students from McKinley to attend preschool classes at Burr and Dwight elementary schools.

Superintendent of Schools David Title told the state board the plan backed by Fairfield's Board of Education would not only help bring his district into compliance with state law, but help more students come to school ready for kindergarten.

Under state law, a school is considered racially unbalanced with the proportion of minority students exceeds 25 percentage points, more or less, than the minority representation districtwide. McKinley has been out of step since 2007, with a rate of minority enrollment anywhere from 28.7 to 25.45 percent above the rest of the district. In 2011-12, it was at 26.81 percent.

Title told the state board the district is moving in the right direction. An increasing number of McKinley families whose children attend preschool classes at Burr School -- about a half-hour school bus ride away from their neighborhood -- opt to have them stay at Burr through elementary school. In 2011, six students from McKinley opted to stay at Burr. The district wants to increase that number to 10 over the next two years.

In addition, the preschool at McKinley was moved to Fairfield Warde High School, which also helped the school close the minority enrollment gap.

Fairfield school officials, however, could not devise program that would successfully attract students from other parts of town to attend McKinley, the board was told.

The new preschool program at Dwight would speed up the district's ability to comply with the 25 percent minority threshold, as well as help both Dwight and Burr increase their 15 percent minority enrollments.

The plan was approved by the Fairfield school board two months ago.

The racial balancing plan was one of two dealt with by the state board Wednesday. The panel also approved a plan for Groton public schools, after listening to interim Superintendent John Ramos, previously of the Bridgeport school system.

The General Assembly has two bills submitted that deal with the racial balance law. One would eliminate it. Another, by state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, calls for a task force to be formed to review and make recommendations regarding the state's racial imbalance law.

State Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor said he has not yet seen the bills.