City Agency Audit Reports

Audit Report on the Collection and Reporting of School Capacity and Utilization Data by the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority

Audit Number: ME11-064A
Release Date: September 14, 2011

AUDIT REPORT IN BRIEF

This audit determined the adequacy of Department of Education (DOE) and School Construction Authority (SCA) controls over the collection, analysis, and reporting of school capacity information to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the utilization data reported in the Enrollment–Capacity–Utilization Report, also referred to as the Blue Book. There are two major components in the calculation of the school building utilization rates reported in the Blue Book: the enrollment of students and the capacity of the schools they occupy. The enrollment data is obtained from DOE’s Automate the Schools (ATS) system. The information on the school buildings’ capacity is generated through Annual Facilities Surveys (AFSs) that have been conducted by SCA since 2003. Every year, school principals are asked to confirm or revise the room usage and size information indicated on the AFSs. SCA calculates the utilization rate for each school by dividing the enrollment figure by the adjusted capacity figure.

The Blue Book is issued annually and is intended to identify “the maximum physical capacity of all [DOE] buildings to serve students, compared to actual enrollments, which together allow for a standard framework with which to assess the utilization” of DOE’s schools. The information provided in the report is intended to allow DOE and SCA “to understand the conditions under which multiple schools share a single building; make informed decisions about enrollment growth or placement of new schools or programs in under-utilized buildings; and plan for major capital projects . . . and other upgrades that expand a building’s capacity.”

The primary scope of the audit was Fiscal Year 2010 (July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010).

Audit Findings and Conclusions

Controls over the collection and reporting of school capacity data in the Blue Book need to be improved. The audit identified some deficiencies in the data collection process leading up to the reporting of capacity figures and utilization rates in the Blue Book.

The audit concluded that principals have not been adequately informed by DOE and SCA about the importance of their roles in the collection of school capacity data and that SCA could improve its monitoring of the principals’ reporting of this data. Our comparison of actual school room functions to the ones the principals noted on the surveys for 23 sampled schools disclosed that the functions of almost one quarter of the sampled rooms were reported incorrectly by the principals, and that more than two-fifths of these had implications for the capacity data presented in the Blue Book. Our comparison of room sizes as indicated on school building blueprints to the sizes the principals noted on the surveys for the 23 schools disclosed that the sizes of more than one-third of the sampled rooms were reported incorrectly by the principals, and that about one-sixth of these had implications for the capacity data presented in the Blue Book. As a result of these weaknesses, the reliability of the school capacity and utilization information reported in the Blue Book is diminished.

Audit Recommendations

To address these issues, the audit recommends that DOE and SCA:

  • Enhance, through training or supplemental communication, principals’ awareness of the significance of the information they provide on the AFSs.
  • Consider collecting, analyzing, and reporting information about the availability of excess space in each school.
  • More effectively use Blue Book data to identify over-utilized schools.

To address these issues, the audit also recommends that SCA:

  • Ensure that AFSs are updated to correct any inaccuracies identified during AFS verification visits to the schools.
  • Ensure that all school room functions and sizes are checked during AFS verification visits.
  • Ensure that it consistently calculates accurately the utilization rates reported in the Blue Book based on the given enrollment and capacity figures.

Agency Response

In their response, DOE and SCA officials generally agreed with four recommendations, but disputed the need to implement the other two recommendations concerning collecting and reporting on the availability of excess space in each school and more effectively utilizing the Blue Book data to identify over-utilized schools. Additionally, the agencies disagreed with the significance of the findings.

In their response, DOE and SCA misrepresent the audit results by netting out the school capacity overstatements and understatements we identify. For example, concerning the inaccuracies relating to room functions identified by the audit, the agencies state that “the net impact on capacity for the 23 schools [we sampled] would be six seats.” The agencies do not provide an explanation as to how they arrived at this number. Furthermore, netting the overstatements and understatements over a number of schools is of no value in relation to a significant purpose of the Blue Book, which is to identify the capacity of each individual DOE school building. For example, if the agencies overstated the capacity of one school with a capacity of 100 by 30 students and understated the capacity of another school with a capacity of 100 by 30 students, using DOE’s and SCA’s methodology there is no error as the net impact on system capacity is zero. However, this methodology ignores the fact that each of these schools has a 30 percent error in its capacity. DOE’s and SCA’s methodology only makes sense if the goal is to match total seats with total enrollment within the system. As the data is used to make decisions regarding individual schools and groups of schools, the best reflection of the accuracy of the Blue Book is the error rate of each individual school.

DOE and SCA compounded this error by apparently applying our test results, which are based on a sample of rooms at the 23 schools, to the total capacity of these schools. DOE and SCA state that their net result of six students “represents 0.04% of the total capacity of these 23 schools.” It appears that they derived this percentage by dividing the net discrepancy in capacity for the 23 schools (which they calculated to be six students) by the total reported school capacity of 15,009 students for the 1,226 rooms at these schools. However, this is a fundamentally flawed analysis. The capacity discrepancy at issue here does not relate to all of the rooms at the 23 schools but rather to a sample of 145 rooms at these schools. The more accurate approach would be to divide the total discrepancy in capacity for the 23 schools1 (which we calculated to be 173 students) by the reported capacity of 2,395 students 2 for the sampled 145 rooms at those schools. This leads to an error rate of 7.22 percent, not the 0.04 percent presented by DOE and SCA.

We must note, however, that the purpose of our testing was not to verify the reported capacity and utilization rates but rather to assess the controls employed by DOE and SCA to ensure the accuracy of those figures. Had it been our intent to verify those figures, the number of rooms tested would have been much greater to enable us to statistically project our results with reasonable precision. Similarly, the number of errors found, and the impact of those errors, would likely have been greater also.
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1 To arrive at the total discrepancy in capacity for the 23 schools, we added the discrepancies in capacity for the individual schools. In determining a school’s capacity discrepancy, we calculated the net impact on capacity for that school.

2 This figure cannot be determined from the Blue Book, but can be inferred by reviewing the AFS responses of the principals at these schools.