It shouldn’t take an Einstein to find basic information on the city’s Department of Education (DOE) website
That’s the impetus to the legislation City Council Member Mark Treyger (D-Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, Sea Gate) is introducing at today’s city council meeting.
The proposed measure would require the DOE to ensure that the search engine on its website is designed to find certain reports when one or more keywords relating to the report subject matter are entered. It would also require the department to ensure that such reports are easily understandable by the general public and that all publicly accessible information on its website remains publicly accessible.
The DOE is the largest single city agency with its $25 billion annual budget. The agency is responsible for educating some 1.1 million school children from pre-K through high school, and some argue, keeping them informed.
“Part of the requirements outlined in past legislation is for the DOE is to post information on its website. What we’re finding is that since they changed their website in 2018 it has become more difficult to find information on the DOE’s website,” explained Treyger, chair of the council’s Education Committee. “So if it’s difficult for City Council experts and policy analysts to find information on a site – just imagine for families and school communities looking for basic information, it becomes that much more complex and challenging. We learned that just prior to the 2018 change, there were over 6,000 pages of available data and information on the DOE site. Now they’re down to 300 pages. If you enter certain searches and certain keywords, you can’t find information.”
This bill would require the DOE to write a report about the functioning of hyperlinks on its website as well as documents available on its website before and after it was redesigned. The report would be posted on its website and filed with the Mayor and the Speaker of the Council. DOE would also be required to repair or redirect any non-functioning hyperlinks and documents that were available before the website was redesigned. Additionally, the DOE would have to provide an explanation regarding what changes it has made or plans to make in response to such feedback.
Treyger offered a concrete example of why these reforms are needed.
“At a hearing last year, I asked about lead testing in schools, and the DOE testified back that they conducted these tests. They said the reports are somewhere on the website. Well, I searched the website, I could not find any reports,” Treyger said. “We learned that the DOE didn’t even keep records of those inspections, so they were not honest with the City Council on the record. There’s important information that the public deserves to know in order to have transparency and hold the DOE accountable.”
The legislation is expected to be widely supported by other councilmembers. There has been a push to improve the accountability of city agencies, and this bill could open the door to similar, more extensive legislation.
“It should not be this complicated to get basic data out to make it available,” said Treyger. “Some of this data is critically important to the health and wellbeing of students and staff in school buildings. We need strong compliance with rules and regulations to protect students’ rights and parents’ rights. So that’s the main reason for the push of this bill. To me, it’s just about just basic transparency and accountability.”