DiNapoli: School districts need to improve technology equipment oversight

Audits of 20 New York State school districts found that many could not always find information technology (IT) assets such as laptops, tablets and monitors; did not always keep records of these assets; and often fail to protect them from theft or damage. As a result, nearly $22 million worth of IT assets purchased or leased during the audit period were subject to potential theft, loss or misuse, according to a report released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school districts to quickly adapt to a new environment using technology to move to distance and hybrid learning,” DiNapoli said. “This necessitated spending significant money on IT assets. District officials must ensure these devices are tracked and secured so taxpayers know their money isn’t being wasted.

For the audit period from July 1, 2019 to March 31, 2022, auditors selected 1,155 IT assets to confirm they were inventoried in school district records and selected 945 of them to see if they could be located. More than 20% of the assets, worth nearly $280,000, were not properly accounted for. Although three districts – East Quogue Union Free School District, Elmsford Union Free School District and Phoenix Central School District – were able to locate all the equipment, 17 were unable to locate more than 100 assets valued at approximately $32,700, including 81 Chromebooks valued at $18,400 .The auditors found that 15% of the sampled assets were not included in the district inventories.

Of the inventory records examined in the 20 districts, auditors reviewed 95,750 asset records and found that nearly 4,400 had missing or duplicate serial numbers and approximately 4,800 were missing locations or names of assigned employees, making them difficult, if not impossible to find.

Eight areas did not have adequate safeguards to protect equipment from loss or damage. Auditors found computers and other items stored in unlocked rooms, hallways or in areas at risk or showing water damage.

District IT staff typically told auditors that they did not have time to conduct physical inventories because their workload had increased during the pandemic. However, auditors noted that districts have made significant investments in IT assets during this period, and the need to properly account for them has also increased.

DiNapoli’s auditors also found:

  • None of the 20 districts have procedures in place to properly track IT equipment inventory.
  • Nineteen districts did not inventory all IT assets or performed annual inventories.
  • Thirteen districts did not have effective procedures for retrieving or recovering student-identified devices when a student leaves the district.
  • Costs for almost 75,400 IT assets and acquisition dates for approximately 62,000 IT assets are not noted in supported areas of inventory records.

DiNapoli’s auditors made numerous recommendations to districts and their boards, including:

  • Ensure that inventory records include the details necessary to adequately track and locate assets and that asset records include, at a minimum: make, model, and serial number; the name of the person to whom the device is assigned, if applicable; the physical location of the asset; and relevant purchase or lease information, including original cost, depreciation and acquisition date.
  • Perform a complete annual physical inventory and compare results with inventory records. Update inventory records to track assets not included in area records.
  • Develop a process for retrieving student devices when the student leaves school.
  • Ensure IT assets are properly accounted for, protected and protected from environmental damage.

IT Asset Management

Track state and local government spending at Open Book New York. Under Inspector General DiNapoli’s Open Data Initiative, search millions of state and local government financial records, track government contracts and find frequently requested data.

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