Collaboration in Civic Spheres

1,000 items, including laptops, vanish from Seattle schools

by July 5th, 2012

More than 1,000 school-owned “assets” – primarily computers, laptops, maintenance equipment, and classroom items – have been reported missing from Seattle schools since January 2009, said a Washington State Auditor’s Office report released this week. The report concluded that the school district does not have adequate procedures to keep track of equipment inventories, including keeping tabs on the dollar values of individual items of equipment. The audit also faulted the district for a lack of follow-up to find missing items and to hold employees accountable for them. The audit declared that the Seattle district owns 45,269 pieces of equipment, of which 6,964 don’t have a dollar value assigned to them. The audit also said the district lost 1,078 “assets” from January 2009 to January 2012. That included 907 missing items in an October 2011 inventory at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence building and maintenance shops. The auditor’s office was not able to provide an estimate of the total dollar value of the items, and did not go into details on the missing “assets” beyond saying they included maintenance equipment, laptops, communications gear and classroom items. One item was an iPad that a principal did not return when he left the school district.

The audit report was actually released July 2 though it was dated June 27. It stated, “It appears the District does not place a priority on inventory procedures, resulting in inadequate resources allocated to safeguarding assets. Consequently, large numbers of assets are missing, the District does not follow up to locate missing items in a timely manner, and does not hold staff accountable for missing assets assigned to their care.” The report also noted, “for example, we reviewed the most recent physical inventory at Aki Kurose Middle School on February 9, 2010, which found 77 missing assets. The fixed asset accountant sent the Principal a Missing Property Report itemizing the missing assets, and asking the Principal to research, locate, and report on them. The Principal also needed to certify the report within 30 days. As of April 2012, none of the reports were certified. Additionally, the District did not perform follow-up to locate the assets or hold the Principal accountable for them.”

The new findings on missing assets come after another state auditor’s office report in June of last year found 31 laptop computers worth $33,759 had disappeared from a Cleveland High School program, with 13 of those lost computers not reported gone in a timely manner. Twelve of the 30 students reporting missing computers received new ones without paying replacement costs or deposits for the new ones. One student lost two computers.

The new audit also found financial irregularities – resulting in losses of more than $5,000 – in accounting for maintenance tools of Seattle School District employees. Maintenance workers use a combination of their own tools and district tools with no accounting controls to track ownership of the tools and to ensure employees only buy needed tools with school money. Employees are allowed up to $750 annually to replace personal tools that are broken while doing school-related work. Between September 2009 and March 2012, five to seven machinists exceeded the $750 limit in buying replacement personal tools with school money – translating to a $4,916 loss. Also, a former worker bought $387 worth of tools after he left the district and charged them to the school system.

On another issue, the audit found four Ballard High School teachers who were entirely paid with special education money when they taught one-half special education courses and one-half general courses. Consequently, their salaries should have been split 50-50 between the special education and general funds, the report said. The school district is legally allowed to split salaries among its general fund, capital projects fund and special education as long as the allocations are properly justified with the correct documentation. The audit found 59 jobs allocated incorrectly between the capital projects and general funds. “Thus, there is a risk that the district is using restricted funds for unallowable purposes,” the audit report said.

Finally, the audit found inadequate internal accounting controls for the district’s Indian education, special education, Title I, education improvement and technology grants programs.

The auditor’s report said the Seattle school district agrees with its findings and will tackle remedial measures.

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