Timeline set for school district’s racial imbalance plan
Updated 4:38 pm, Thursday, April 13, 2017
FAIRFIELD — The details are finally coming together.
The town’s plan to address state-deemed racial imbalance between McKinley School’s diversity compared to that of all Fairfield elementary schools now contains a timeline and benchmarks of action the school district is prepared to take.
The timeline consists of steps for implementing short-term efforts: moving a prekindergarten program and increasing seats it offers to Bridgeport students through the state grant-funded Open Choice program, and evaluating their effects. It also includes timed-out steps for evaluating a magnet program and redistricting as permanent fixes.
The plan received conditional approval from the state Board of Education in January, with the requirement Fairfield return to Hartford in 120 days with an amendment detailing how it would implement its plan in real time. Some state board members expressed frustration the district’s average elementary school enrollment of minority students has hovered more than 25 percentage points lower than McKinley’s for over a decade. Local officials have argued the Thompson Street elementary school, nearly half minority students, is an international school whose unique culture is valuable and should not be diluted.
Some see the racial imbalance law, which originated in the late 1960s to combat school segregation, as outdated. State officials have maintained their job is to enforce the law as it exists.
The timeline, approved April 6, retroactively starts this past January and continues to June 2019.
One benchmark, state officials’ visit to McKinley, took place March 28. Other steps that have already been completed include engagement with impacted PTAs on plans and with the larger community on the timeline, as well as moving the prekindergarten program from Dwight to Stratfield Elementary School beginning with next school year’s enrollment.
The Board of Education passed the benchmarks and timeline as an amendment to its racial imbalance plan on April 6 with five members present. One member was not in attendance and three walked out during the vote, protesting another board member’s legitimacy (For that story, see page A5).
Board member Eileen Liu-McCormack criticized the timeline before leaving in protest and forfeiting the chance to vote on its passage. Liu-McCormack called plans to move a pre-K program and increase Open Choice enrollment potentially costly options that serve nonmandated populations, since the board is not technically responsible for educating children in pre-K or living outside the town. Open Choice is primarily funded through state grants.
Liu-McCormack called both efforts in service of the greater good, but expressed concern they could threaten budgeting for programs serving Fairfield students. She suggested reordering the timeline to first consider a magnet program or redistricting before the pre-K change and Open Choice increase.
“They marginally improve the situation,” she said, “but why do that when we can probably solve the issue?”
What type of magnet program might impact the racial imbalance, if any, remains unclear, as the district is still in the early stages of what it might consider. Redistricting was ruled out by hired consultants until Holland Hill and Mill Hill elementary school expansion and renovation projects are completed in several years.
Fairfield’s school board will next present the approved amendment to the state board. Fairfield Chariman Philip Dwyer said during the April 6 meeting he believed May would be the earliest the amended plan would be presented.