The city Department of Education announced last month that it was making changes to its Blue Book — the annual document that outlines school organization and utilization — based on suggestions from a panel created earlier this year by Schools Chancellor Carmen Fari–a.
The Blue Book has been the focus of several education-related debates in the city in recent years, from trailers in schoolyards to co-locations. Critics allege the Bloomberg administration’s Blue Books underestimated how much space schools need and overestimated how much space was available to make co-locations politically palpable.
Among the critics at the time were Mayor de Blasio as a council member and later public advocate, who promised a moratorium on co-locations in his mayoral campaign due to the issues.
Though he reneged on the promise to stop co-locations, the mayor did establish a panel, the Blue Book Working Group, to study changes to the document. The group was made up of parents of public school students, including charter schools, advocacy organizations, principals and community education council members.
Under the new rules established by the group, there will be two separate Blue Books. One will outline the historical capacity of a school, while the other will include future projections that will outline in real numbers plans to reduce class sizes and expectations for future co-locations or total school utilization should co-located schools close or move.
It will also have two totals — one for an entire building, and all the schools inside of it, and one for a school that may have multiple campuses.
The Blue Books will, for the first time, include space for instruction will not include rooms in schools that are designated as lunchrooms, offices, libraries, gymnasiums or auditoriums. All rooms less than 240 square feet are also excluded from possible classroom use. Rooms between 240 and 499 square feet used for noninstructional purposes are not counted and are assumed to be available for support or administrative use.
The Blue Books will also for the first time count trailers as classroom space. The DOE says that change will help communities better understand what steps need to be taken to eliminate trailers while not creating more overcrowding.
The news of the Blue Book’s changes was met with a positive response from some educators and officials.
“Any effort that is made to better serve our students is welcome,” said Deb Dillingham, Queens representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, the DOE’s policy-making body. “Given the overcrowding issues that come with living in New York City and the programming difficulties that come with co-locations, changes to the Blue Book calculations are welcome. The Blue Book Working Group should be commended for its efforts on behalf of the children of our city.”
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Education Committee, also praised the changes.
“Breaking down information two ways — by school and by building, including all co-located schools — will improve transparency,” he said. “Including students taught in trailers in the main building’s enrollment figures will provide a more accurate picture of overcrowding.”
In the meantime, City Comptroller Scott Stringer released the results of an audit on school overcrowding Wednesday, which blasted the city’s response to the problem, saying that the agency failed to keep appropriate records and respond to overcrowding concerns.
“With significant overcrowding in schools across New York City, the DOE simply wasn’t interested in finding out what policies worked to reduce class sizes and help our children achieve their full academic potential,” Comptroller Stringer said. “What gets measured gets managed and in this case, DOE didn’t keep records of the remedial actions it took to reduce overcrowding, let alone what worked and what didn’t.”
Some of the proposed changes Stringer suggested in his audit, including counting trailers as classroom space, were already part of the Blue Book changes announced last month.