City Comptroller Audit Reveals DOE Flaws

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

While overcrowding continues to stifle City schools – Queens schools in particular – an audit conducted by City Comptroller Scott Stringer reveals that the Dept. of Education did not properly address overcrowding in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years.

According to the audit, a third of City schools were overcrowded in the 2011- 2012 school year, running at more than 138 percent capacity.

stringerThe audit also noted that overcrowding in primary and middle schools appears to be worsening, despite the addition of 16,359 new classroom seats in Fiscal Years 2011 and2012.

The predominant DOE problems identified by the audit involve poor record keeping.

According to the report, the two offices charged with recommending ways to reduce overcrowding – Portfolio Management and Space Planning – did not maintain written policies and procedures or process flow charts.

Also, actions taken by these offices were not adequately documented, and the DOE did not track the efficacy of recommendations.

“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,” Stringer said in a statement released last week.

In a response attached to the audit, the DOE said, “we find the text of the audit deliberately misleading…the report inaccurately describes the goals and responsibilities of the Office of Portfolio Management as solely focused on and owning responsibility for resolving overcrowded conditions.”

Queens is the most overcrowded borough, with 47 percent of schools running over capacity in the 2011-2012 schoo lyear.

Of the 59 most severely overcrowded schools identified in the audit, 19 are in Queens, the most of any borough.

Forest Hills High School and PS 303 were two of the most grossly overcrowded, operating at 186 and 188 percent capacity, respectively.

PS 51, PS 228 and Francis Lewis High School all operated at over 175 percent capacity.

Isaac Carmignani is a public school parent and co-president of the Community Education Council for District 30, one of the City’s most crowded districts.

He spoke about the daily repercussions of overcrowding on students and families.

“Not having a locker, a place to put your stuff, having to carry your enormous backpack all day from class to class.

It makes a difference to these kids,” Carmignani said, adding that the high numbers of students sharing the cafeteria demands that many take a lunch periods in the morning.

By their last class, “it’s really hard for them to concentrate because they’re starved by that point,” Carmignani said.

While the DOE has not alleviated overcrowding, Carmignani and his peers are left grappling with its symptoms.

He said some “creative solutions” he has devised might include staggering school breaks or putting lunch periods in the classrooms.

The Comptroller’s audit also indicated that school overcrowding might be even worse than it seems.

According to the Comptroller, certain DOE statistics failed to account for enrollment in Transportable Classroom Units (TCUs) – known informally as trailers – that house extra classrooms next to permanent school buildings.

The TCUs are themselves overcrowded.

The Comptroller examined in particular 65 TCUs running over capacity and found that more than half of them either became more crowded or showed no improvementbetween 2010 and 2012.

In their response to the audit, the DOE also said, “numbers without context can be used to mislead.

An accurate picture of building overutilization would also have to take into account that citywide enrollment experience growth” during the years studied.

Moving forward, the Comptroller recommends a number of DOE actions, including documentation on proposed recommendations, implementation of a system to track overcrowded buildings, and the possible termination of classroom trailers at certain undercapacity schools.

School Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement, “our 2015-2019 capital plan will add tens ofthousands of new seats to directly address the issue, and we will work closely with communities to mitigate overcrowding.”

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.