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City Council Will Require More Detailed Inventory of School Space

Monday, October 17, 2011 - 06:50 PM

In an effort to keep track of how schools use space, the City Council unanimously approved a bill Monday that will require the Department of Education to submit an annual report on each school throughout the city.

As the school system grapples with the issue of overcrowded classrooms, council leaders say there is often little agreement on when a room in a school is suitable for a certain purpose, like whether a science lab can accommodate an art class.

The bill approved by the council is called the Schools F.A.C.T Act, which stands for Facility, Accountability, Capacity and Transparency, and it calls for a breakdown of data by school district, council district and borough. It would provide information even more detailed that what the Department of Education provides now in its so-called Blue Book, which a city audit recently found contained many mistakes.

"We actually don’t have any annual documentation and reporting from the Department of Education that answers simple questions like does the school in my neighborhood have a gym, does the school in my neighborhood have an art room, does the school in my neighborhood have a library,'' City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. "My child has special needs, are there rooms for speech therapy, will speech therapy be conducted in the hallways? None of that information, not in the Blue Book, not anywhere is that information reported.''

She said the new reporting requirement would try to provide an inventory of specific spaces.

“This data gives a yearly snapshot of what is and what isn’t, and knowing that will not only help you pick the best school for your child, but it will help you and your council member and your neighborhood advocate for better facilities in your local school if that is what the data indicates you need.”

In a study it released last month, the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers union, said it found that the number of overcrowded classes in New York is the largest in 10 years.

City Councilman Robert Jackson, who is the chairman of the education committee and the bill’s sponsor, said such information will address recent parental concerns on overcrowding, and provide possible solutions to the problem.

“Honestly I believe that the only place that is not being used in order to educate our children or to have some other program is the boiler room,” he said. “Clearly this is something that parents and advocates have been crying out for for so long.''

The legislation will require Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott to report to the City Council each year on school capacity and the use of space beginning in November 2013, which Ms. Quinn said will give the Department of Education time to compile the necessary data. The reports will be available on the Department of Education Web site.

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