Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Audit on school overcrowding released today confirms our findings that the crisis is getting worse

Today's Daily News, and no that it not me screaming in facepaint.
Today's audit from the City Comptroller reinforces the findings in our recent report, Space Crunch, showing that DOE continues to put out misleading data to minimize the worsening crisis of overcrowding in our schools, and has no real plans to deal with it.   See the Juan Gonzalez front page story in the Daily News today about the audit.  The unacceptable level of overcrowding was also delineated in a recent study from the Independent Budget Office. 

Overcrowding has a host of negative impacts on students, including excessive class sizes, high rates of disengagement and disciplinary problems, safety issues, and a sense among students that the system doesn’t care enough about their needs.  More than 330,000 students were in classes of 30 or more last year.  We also found that the DOE undercounts the number of students in trailers by many thousands.

Though the audit found that about 1/3 of kids were in overcrowded buildings by looking at the Blue Book’s “historic” 2011-2012 figures, we analyzed more recent “target” figures from 2012-13 and found nearly half of all students were in overcrowded buildings.   

The “target” formula is somewhat more accurate but still underestimates the actual level of overcrowding in schools.  This means more than 480,000 students were in extremely overstuffed buildings last year. The audit found the same trend line as we did– worsening overcrowding, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels.

The most interesting aspect of the audit involved their asking for documentation of what the DOE Offices of Portfolio Management and Space Planning had done to address the problem of overcrowding:

DOE’s Offices of Space Planning and Portfolio Management lacked any statistical or documentary evidence showing the substantive steps they took to alleviate school overcrowding. This failure constitutes a significant internal control deficiency. The lack of documentation may be partly attributed to the absence of written policies and procedures for either office. Through interviews and discussions with DOE personnel we were able to ascertain that Portfolio Management and Space Planning had some procedures in place and that they had attempted to follow these procedures to alleviate overcrowding. [Like what? They do not say.]

However, no documentation or evidence existed with in these two offices to indicate what these steps were or whether they had been taken….

Portfolio Management staff explained that the process for alleviating overcrowding is “organic,” consisting of “borough teams” that monitor schools monthly and annually, conduct monthly meetings, and hold telephone conversations with principals. According to Portfolio Management and Space Planning staff, written documentation, meeting minutes, and telephone logs of this process were not maintained. Therefore, there is no way to assess whether DOE was in fact, taking steps to alleviate overcrowding and whether those steps were effective.”

The DOE now claims that Portfolio has been abolished and a new office created called District planning, but several people in the know say the office has much the same personnel and apparently the same mission: to cram new co-located schools into existing school buildings which further overcrowds them.

From a footnote in the audit: “Portfolio Management, prior to its dissolution, did not have an organizational chart for its approximately 50 person staff, nor did it maintain a list of school buildings where the office attempted to address problems.”

We estimate that at least 100,000 seats are needed to alleviate the space crunch in our schools—more than double the number in the current capital plan, or else it is likely that NYC kids will be stuffed into even more overcrowded classrooms and substandard trailers for years to come.  It is time that the new administration confronts this ongoing crisis honestly and takes meaningful steps to address it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Overcrowding is happening in a school like mine which is relatively small and has space. We are only allowed to open a certain number of classes. They want us to fill to the max and have a waiting list of at least 15 before a new class can be requested. My school has a high ELL/new immigrant and special ed population which could benefit from small class sizes. We had small classes before Bloomberg and they proved themselves. In the last two years our class sizes have been at the max esoecially in our first grades through no fault of our principal.