Audit shows DOE has failed at addressing overcrowding
by Jess Berry
Jul 16, 2014 | 512 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Department of Education (DOE) has utterly failed at addressing the growing issue of overcrowded schools throughout the five boroughs, according to an audit recently released by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The audit states that DOE has failed to record any statistics or evidence of steps it took to ease overcrowding for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years.

“With significant overcrowding in schools across New York City, the Department of Education simply wasn’t interested in finding out what policies worked to reduce class sizes and help our children achieve their full academic potential,” Stringer said.

“What gets measured gets managed and in this case, DOE didn’t keep records of the remedial actions it took to reduce overcrowding, let alone what worked and what didn’t,” he added. “Every child deserves enough space to be able to learn. This audit found that there is much more to be done before DOE gets a passing grade on reducing overcrowding in schools.”

Data from DOE shows that between fiscal years 2010 and 2012, over-utilization for primary schools increased from 31 to 33 percent and for middle schools from 9 to 12 percent, while high schools’ over-utilization rate decreased from 37 to 32 percent.

An over-utilized building is one that has exceeded 100 percent capacity.

It has been the job of the Portfolio Management and Space Planning offices to assess space utilization across city schools and make recommendations to ease overcrowding. However, auditors found that written policies and procedures were not maintained, nor were process flow charts.

Thus, according to the comptroller’s office, DOE effectively did not consistently record when and where recommendations were implemented, or if they were effective in addressing the issue of overcrowding.

DOE reported that 36 percent of school buildings were over-utilized in 2010-2011. That number did not change in the following year, despite the fact that DOE created 5,593 new seats in school year 2011.

Another 10,766 seats were created in school year 2012, but DOE reports show that 33 percent of primary schools were deemed overcrowded by as much as 138 percent.

In 2012, 12 percent of middle schools and 32 percent of high schools were overcrowded.

For the 59 most over-utilized public school buildings in the city, the over-utilization rates ranged from 133 to 238 percent.

Additionally, the audit found that statistics that DOE did provide were misleading, because they did not account for enrollment in Transportable Classroom Units (TCUs), or classroom trailers. This means that the numbers did not accurately reflect the true severity of overcrowding in some schools.

“Step one in alleviating school overcrowding is providing an honest, transparent account of space that exists in our school buildings,” Stringer said. “Step two is ensuring that there are coherent internal structures, policies and protocols in place to identify, track and address the school overcrowding. DOE must continue to work on these issues as it addresses the overcrowding crisis in our schools.”

His recommendations for DOE after the audit included compiling written policies and procedures outlining steps that the Office of Portfolio Management and Office of Space Planning are taking to address overcrowding, monitor the effectiveness of the recommendations implemented and look into the possibility of removing TCUs.

DOE said that it would largely follow these recommendations.

When questioned about the audit, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while he “appreciated the report,” he was “a little surprised at some of the follow up.”

“We just in May announced an Executive Budget which we then voted on – what was it? 10 days ago or something – that had a huge increase in capital funding to reduce overcrowding and to move us away from trailers,” the mayor said at a press conference last week.

“So I just ask for a little more historical memory of things that happened just in the last few weeks. We’ve made a huge, huge investment and we’re going to apply that very aggressively,” he added. “The overcrowding problem is unacceptable, it’s something that unfortunately has been going on for decades, but if the answer is a lot more capital spending on education, then that’s what we’re doing.”
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