Advocates Call for More Transparency in Evaluating School Capacity

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An advocacy group is accusing the city's Department of Education of manipulating data to make it seem like schools have more space than they actually have.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity analyzed the capacity of different school buildings listed in the official "blue book" and found the numbers went up and down wildly from one year to the next.

Regina Castro, a parent the Coalition for Educational Justice, said middle schools just installed science labs to help students prepare for the regents exam. "Now, science labs are being dismantled and turned into classrooms because the blue book says that our schools can fit more children than they actually can," said Castro.

The blue book is one tool the department uses to decide whether a school building is full or can take more students. Other reports provide other data about how classrooms are used, but those reports are not available to the public.

Kim Sweet is a child advocate who works with parents concerned about new schools being added to existing buildings. "Parents were hearing from the DOE's representatives that the school had plenty of space, but that they were actually seeing that their children were being provided with speech therapy in the hallways, in the back of the library because they had classrooms taken away already," said Sweet.

Other parents complained their children have to eat lunch in shifts from as early as 10 a.m. to as late as 2 p.m. They say music and art rooms have been reduced to carts teachers push from room to room.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity won a lawsuit in 1995 that required the state to provide more funding to New York City Schools. Part of that order was for the city to revise the way it evaluates classroom capacity, which the campaign says the city has not done.

In a statement, the Department of Education said the study was flawed and did not account for all the ways the schools have increased capacity, such as by moving administrators to other buildings and using their offices as classrooms. They said school leaders use buildings in different ways from year to year and that there have been historic investments in school construction.