Audit Report In Brief

This audit was conducted of the Department of Education (“DOE”) to determine the effectiveness of DOE’s efforts to alleviate overcrowding in public school buildings in school years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.  DOE is responsible for providing primary and secondary education to more than one million students in over 1,800 schools located in approximately 1,400 buildings citywide.  According to the DOE’s “Enrollment, Capacity, and Utilization Report” for 2010-2011 (known as the “Blue Book”), 525 of 1,463 (36 percent) school buildings were over-utilized.  For 2011-2012, that overall rate remained unchanged, with the Blue Book showing 520 of 1,454 (36 percent) buildings over-utilized.  DOE data indicates that between Fiscal Years 2010 and 2012, the over-utilization rate for primary schools increased from 31 to 33 percent and for middle schools from 9 to 12 percent, while the high school over-utilization rate decreased from 37 percent to 32 percent.

During the period under review in the audit, DOE’s Office of Portfolio Management and its Office of Space Planning had primary responsibility for assessing and providing recommendations to alleviate school building overcrowding.  Among the measures that could be recommended were the conversion or reclassification of space determined to be “excess” for classroom use and rezoning school district lines or making significant changes to school buildings’ utilization in accordance with DOE’s Chancellor Regulations A-185 and A-190.  When it was not possible to reduce overcrowding through such actions, the Office of Portfolio Management was authorized to recommend construction of new school facilities to accommodate additional students.

Audit Findings and Conclusion

The audit found significant weaknesses in DOE’s efforts to alleviate overcrowding in its schools, including a failure to maintain official written policies and procedures and process flow charts.  In addition, the audit found that DOE failed to track whether recommendations were implemented and, where they were implemented, whether they were successful in alleviating overcrowding conditions.  The audit also found that certain statistics reported in the Blue Book are misleading.  As a result, the utilization rates for school buildings with affiliated Transportable Classroom Units did not accurately reflect the actual amount of overcrowding in a given school.

The audit further found that specific actions taken by the Offices of Portfolio Management and Space Planning to alleviate school building overcrowding were not adequately documented.  Accordingly, the impact of whatever efforts may have been taken during the audit period could not be assessed.  DOE statistics show that rates of overcrowding in primary and middle school public buildings were fairly consistent between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.  However, because of the absence of documentary evidence, it was not possible to determine what affect, if any, efforts of the Offices of Portfolio Management and Space Planning had on building overcrowding.

Following receipt of the draft preliminary audit report, DOE informed the auditors that it had eliminated the Office of Portfolio Management and that its responsibilities would be absorbed by the Office of District Planning.

Audit Recommendations

Based on the audit findings, we make the following 7 recommendations:

  • DOE should compile written policies and procedures detailing steps that the Office of Portfolio Management (or any successor thereto) and the Office of Space Planning are required to take to address overcrowding, prior to those measures required under Chancellor Regulations A-185 and A-190.
  • DOE should ensure that the Office of Portfolio Management (or any successor thereto) and the Office of Space Planning carry out the required steps set forth in accordance with Recommendation 1 to alleviate overcrowding in school buildings and Transportable Classroom Units.
  • DOE should maintain documentation on proposed recommendations and solutions to address overcrowded school buildings.
  • DOE should implement a system to track over-utilized buildings and buildings for which overcrowding solution were recommended and addressed.
  • DOE should assess and monitor the effectiveness of recommendations that have been implemented to alleviate overcrowding and use that information to guide future action.
  • DOE should request that the School Construction Authority report an additional set of combined utilization rates in the Blue Book for school buildings with associated Transportable Classroom Units.
  • DOE should examine the feasibility of discontinuing the use of Transportable Classroom Units, particularly at the six schools identified in this report as under-utilized.

Agency Response

In their response, DOE officials stated, “While we are in agreement with most of the recommendations from the audit, we find the text of the audit deliberately misleading and demonstrating a clearly biased approach to the issue, particularly in describing the roles and responsibilities of the units interviewed.  The report inaccurately describes the goals and responsibilities of the Office of Portfolio Management (OPM) as solely focused on and owning responsibility for resolving overcrowded conditions.”

Despite its criticisms of this audit report, DOE nonetheless affirmed that it is “in agreement with most of the recommendations” of the audit.  Consistent with the audit report, these recommendations concern the failure of the Offices of Portfolio Management and Space Planning to adequately document measures they had taken to alleviate school building overcrowding.  As a result of this deficiency, which DOE has for the most part agreed to address, the auditors could not assess the effectiveness of any efforts by those offices to alleviate school overcrowding.