City Comptroller John Liu announced today that he is launching audits of two of the Department of Education’s most ambitious technology programs developed under former Chancellor Joel Klein.

The comptroller’s office plans to examine the Innovation Zone, or iZone — a $50 million initiative the Department of Education is touting as a strategy to improve schools during budget-conscious times. Funded through a combination of Race to the Top winnings, private donations and $10 million in tax dollars, the iZone is paying for experiments in online learning, staffing, and school time in 80 schools this year.

Liu also plans to audit ARIS — the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System — an $81 million online data warehouse that debuted in 2008 and eventually overcame some of its early glitches. ARIS began as a contract with IBM, but soon became a project of Wireless Generation, a company that was recently purchased by News Corporation. The city plans to pilot a second phase of the database, known as ARIS Local, in some schools this spring.

Both projects have their skeptics and supporters, but it was mainly the former who attended Liu’s townhall meetings, where participants suggested that the comptroller investigate whether both of these programs were accomplishing their goals.

“We will comply with the Comptroller’s audit and provide all necessary information,” said DOE spokeswoman Deidrea Miller in an email.

A spokesman for the comptroller’s office said that there are currently 12 audits underway of Department of Education operations.

Comptroller Liu’s press release:

LIU: PUBLIC DEMANDS AUDITS OF DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION TECH PROGRAMS

Suggestions Come From Recent Town Hall Audit Tour

NEW YORK, NY – City Comptroller John C. Liu today announced he has launched audits of two controversial technology programs run by the Department of Education (DOE). These audits represent a small sample of the many requests for audits of DOE operations that the Comptroller received at his “Audit Town Hall” meetings held in all five boroughs earlier this year.

“We conducted these Audit Town Halls to hear from the public, the customers who are supposed to be served by government,” said Comptroller Liu. “That New Yorkers are not shy about speaking their minds helps us do our job better, and in the end improves city government.”

“People came to the Audit Town Halls with a lot of questions about how the Department of Education spends their tax dollars,” said Deputy Comptroller for Audit H. Tina Kim. “We’ve seen before how the City’s IT projects can run up exorbitant fees when they’re not properly monitored.”

AUDIT 1: Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS)

Based on a suggestion received at the Manhattan Town Hall, the Comptrollers’ Office has started an audit of the DOE’s Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS). In 2007 the DOE hired IBM to develop ARIS, an $80 million data collection system to track students’ academic records in unprecedented detail. Wireless Generation, an IBM subcontractor, is credited with leading ARIS’ development.

AUDIT 2: iZone

New Yorkers at both the Manhattan and Bronx Town Halls also asked the Comptroller to audit the DOE’s “iZone” project that was intended to increase the use of innovative technologies in classrooms.  Early reactions to iZone’s efforts have been mixed. In the coming months, Comptroller Liu will announce additional audits of City agencies that were suggested by residents of the five boroughs.

The Comptroller’s Audit Town Halls were attended by 530 New Yorkers who offered 190 ideas for audits.