Blue Book

Civics lesson

space crunch

New York

Auditing DOE's space planning data, comptroller finds glitches

The Department of Education's annual assessments of how much space is available in each school building are not always correct. That's according to an audit being released today by Comptroller John Liu, who is in the midst of scrutinizing DOE data in a series of reports. Liu, who is weighing a 2013 mayoral run, launched the audits this spring after holding town hall meetings in which New Yorkers suggested topics for investigation. Last week, he critiqued the DOE's handling of the Absent Teacher Reserve, and he has at least three other schools audits in the works. The newest audit examines the city's "Blue Book," which contains space estimates for each school building. The DOE and the School Construction Authority use the Blue Book to guide how many students can be placed in a school, and how many schools can fit into a building. Critics, including members of the City Council, say Blue Book numbers don't always reflect reality — for example, suggesting that an additional class could fit into an art room — and that decisions based on them can leave schools crunched for space. To evaluate the city's success at ensuring accurate Blue Book data, Liu's office analyzed entries for 23 schools and found that space assessments for 10 percent of all rooms were incorrect in a way that affected the school's overall capacity. "Proper space is essential for fostering a good learning environment, yet all too often the DOE is basing critical building decisions on its unreliable Blue Book, which bears too much resemblance to a house of cards," Liu said in a statement.