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Blue Book Looks a Little Gray

The DOE’s annual 600-plus-page Enrollment–Capacity–Utilization Report 2009-10, universally known as the Blue Book, is the official word on how much space is available in every school in the city. But the results of an audit released today by the city comptroller show that the Blue Book data is inaccurate.

The particulars are a little technical, but the impact is not. The DOE uses the Blue Book to decide on co-locations. It is also used to assign students to a building, add grades, bring in special education programs, and determine the multi-billion-dollar capital spending plan.

But in 23 percent of school rooms that auditors checked on, the Blue Book either gave the wrong size or the wrong function. For example, the room was described as a resource room but was really being used as an office, or the room was reportedly big enough for 28 kids when actually it could only hold 20.

Principals are supposed to collect and report the data, but the auditors concluded that they really don’t know how to do it or how the information is used. Worse, the auditors said, even in schools that the School Construction Authority (the book’s authors) had specially reviewed last year to verify the principals’ findings, the room functions and capacities were still wrong.  And curiously, the net result of the errors is that SCA tends to underestimate how much overcrowding is going on in schools.

Parents, politicians and teachers, who know exactly how crowded a particular school building is, have been citing problems with the Blue Book for a couple of years now. (UFT researchers have literally spent weeks trying to square data in the book with the reality on the ground.) The DOE’s response, in a letter appended to the report is not encouraging: the audit emphasizes “technical reporting errors that have no impact whatsoever on capacity and utilization calculations,” they write.

Really.

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