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Thousands of School Computers Missing or Inaccurately Logged, Audit Finds

By Amy Zimmer | July 20, 2017 9:42am
 Thousands of computers or tablets were missing or improperly accounted for, an audit found.
Thousands of computers or tablets were missing or improperly accounted for, an audit found.
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Steve Meyer/DNAinfo

MANHATTAN — Though the city is spending millions on computers and other tech equipment, the Department of Education isn’t keeping tabs on its technology inventory, according to an audit released Wednesday from City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

A staggering 35 percent of roughly 14,000 machines were not properly accounted for at eight schools and one DOE office covered by the audit.

The DOE, however, disputed the audit's methodology.

The DOE spends a hefty sum on contracts for computer hardware, including $105 million with Apple, nearly $92 million with Lenovo and $23 million for Google Chromebooks for desktop computers costing up to $2,290 and laptops costing up to $2,339, among other equipment.

That’s why Stringer’s office wanted to find out whether the education department improved its computer inventory oversight after a 2014 audit made several recommendations on how to properly safeguard the hardware. 

The DOE, however, did not implement most of Stringer's suggested measures to improve sufficient support to sites, the audit said.

Because of that, the department’s inventory records remained inaccurate and incomplete, and its computer hardware was at risk of being “lost, stolen, and wasted,” the report stated.

The new investigation found more than 1,800 computers, laptops and tablets were missing at the nine audited sites, while more than 3,500 devices that were or should have been at those locations were not listed in the DOE’s inventory — making these machines vulnerable to theft.

“I’m calling on the DOE to do a top-to-bottom review of all of its computers, laptops, and monitors,” Stringer said in a statement. “This isn’t just a massive mess — it’s wrong. When laptops and tablets go missing, or are stored in closets gathering dust, children and teachers are let down. The ineptitude by the bureaucracy is resulting in wasted resources, and it undermines our ability to prepare our children for the future.”

Stringer was especially incensed because the DOE has known about these problems for more than two years and has made little progress to address them.

“We constantly hear the same excuses from the agency — that monitoring is in place, that systems are functioning the way they should, and that the public should trust that everything is fine,” he said. “As this audit once again shows, taxpayer dollars are exposed to waste, fraud, or abuse — and it’s coming at our kids’ expense.”

DOE officials, however, took issue with how Stringer's office conducted its audit, treating the Asset Management System as a centralized inventory system, which it is not, according to the department. Stringer's office also did not always interview the correct staff during their visits, school officials said.

"This audit’s findings are fundamentally flawed and unreliable, and we’re committed to improving our inventory system for technology," DOE spokesman Will Mantell said.

The DOE is investing in systemwide improvements to inventory management, officials added, including policy reminders and timelines outlined in weekly newsletters to principals and requiring every administrative office have an "inventory officer."

"We’re training teachers to better use technology as a tool in their classroom and will continue to invest in cost-effective solutions that catalogue and safeguard technology purchases in the best interests of students, schools and taxpayers," Mantell said.