NYC Tweaks How it Reports School Crowding

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New York City's Department of Education released on Friday the next version of the technical document used to define space, and how many students a school building can serve.

The document has long frustrated parents and others concerned with overcrowding in the schools. They have argued that the document, known as the blue book, misrepresented a school's capacity and was, at best, opaque in its reporting.

The latest version, called the Enrollment, Capacity and Utilization Report, incorporates the early work of a newly-formed Blue Book Task Force charged by Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina with reviewing how the city calculates school capacity and presents it to the public. 

Education officials highlighted two minor changes to the report and one significant change: the city will no longer count trailers as part of a school building's official capacity.

Critics lamented how trailers, meant to be temporary structures to accommodate an overflow of students, misrepresented a school's capacity on paper. Counting the trailers as part of a school's official classroom count, they argued, artificially inflated how many students the building could truly serve. (A recent WNYC report revealed the flip side of that issue, showing how the Department of Education has also under-reported how many students actually attend classes in trailers.)

The city also made two formatting changes to the blue book in an effort to make it more user-friendly. For schools that have multiple buildings, the new report outlines capacity for the entire school organization.

The blue book now also comes in two versions, one with "target" numbers and one with "historic" numbers. Target numbers are used more for planning goals, such as how many students a building could serve if class sizes were smaller. Historic numbers provide a snapshot of current conditions within a school building although critics say the numbers can be extremely inaccurate.

City education officials hinted in a press release that more changes to the blue book may come later, including accounting for space needed to provide "robust" arts and physical education programs.