Racial imbalance plan hasn't yielded desired results for McKinley School
Diversity Task Force hopes to try something new
A racial imbalance plan for McKinley School that was meant to bring the school more in line with other schools in the district, hasn't quite yielded the results school officials had hoped for.
As a result, Anna Cutaia-Leonard, director of elementary education for the school district, will soon be asking the Board of Education to expand the opt-in effort to all of the elementary schools. Presently, only students from Osborn Hill, Stratfield and Riverfield can opt-in to McKinley. There are a total of 11 elementary schools in the district.
According to state law, the proportion of minority students in any school district must not be more than 25 percentage points above or below a district's overall average.
Three years ago, McKinley was part of a list put out by the State Board of Education that highlighted schools with a 25 percent or greater imbalance. Of the six schools on that list, McKinley ranked fourth at 28.74 percent. One way the district attempted to remedy that was to, in year one of a four-year plan, allow McKinley students the option to attend Dwight, Jennings or Stratfield Elementary Schools.
While the district cannot relocate children based on their ethnicity, the goal of allowing opting in and opting out is to bring McKinley into compliance with the state's racial imbalance laws. If relocation requests outnumber the number of available seats at the various schools, priority can be given to students not achieving academic proficiency, as well as students participating in the free and reduced lunch program. The racial imbalance plan also limited the number of students who could relocate in the first year. The plan was for somewhere between 35 and 40, but the education board whittled that number down to 25. However, less than half that number -- eight -- took advantage of the relocation allowance.
The plan has now encompassed three different school years. In 2007--08, it was opt-out only (to Dwight, Jennings and Stratfield), according to Cutaia-Leonard. In the second year of the plan, McKinley students were given the OK to opt out and attend Burr, Dwight and Jennings. Also, students from Stratfield and Osborn Hill were allowed to opt in to McKinley. In year three (2009--10), McKinley students were again given the opportunity to opt out to Burr, Dwight and Jennings. This time, however, students from Stratfield and Riverfield -- rather than Stratfield and Osborn Hill -- were given the option to opt in to McKinley.
In order for McKinley not to be imbalanced, according to Cutaia-Leonard, its minority population could not exceed 39.71 percent. Presently, minority students represent 43.68 percent of the student body.
When an opt-in, opt-out or both are allowed, there is no way to know who will choose these options. Plus, there are currently only 24 available seats at McKinley. Opting out is limited to schools where there are available seats. For example, Osborn Hill, which is expecting 563 students next year, does not have room to have anyone opt in from McKinley.
The expanded opt-in request will likely be on the Board of Education's Feb. 9 agenda. If it is approved, parents will have the opportunity to attend an open house at McKinley on Feb. 12.
Cutaia-Leonard told the education board last week that the imbalance numbers actually went up, not down, this past year, which was a departure from the previous two years of the racial imbalance plan.
Superintendent of Schools Ann Clark said the imbalance issue at McKinley could also be solved, hypothetically, if 24 minority students opted out. However, the opt-in and opt-out efforts haven't made the imbalance go away. Board of Education Vice Chairman Pam Iacono said it's a case of people, across the district, liking the schools that they're in.
Board of Education Member Perry Liu wondered if there's a point at which school officials can tell state officials that various efforts were made to fix the alleged imbalance and can be off the hook. Cutaia-Leonard said the alleged problem has to get solved. When the Board of Education dealt with racial imbalance in the recent past, a number of board members objected to McKinley being labeled "racially imbalanced" and noted it was actually the most racially balanced, and most diverse, school in the district.
Board of Education Member John Mitola noted that it's "ludicrous" the state says you can't move children based on race yet it's called "racial imbalance."
Mitola, an attorney, said it's a state-perceived problem and added he felt the law was unconstitutional.
Cutaia-Leonard said the imbalance that remains is no fault of the town's Cultural Diversity Task Force, which came up with the racial imbalance plan. She said the task force has worked very hard coming up with alternatives and options, "but at some point we have to decide what to do in the short- and long-term." Another effort of the task force was establishing a pre-school program at McKinley and later at Burr that would allow families from any part of town to apply.
Cutaia-Leonard said if students from all of the elementary schools are given the option to opt in to McKinley, the cost involved -- due to the distance between certain schools and McKinley -- may be mini-buses, which average around $51,000 to $55,000.