New York City

NYC DOE disputes Stringer audit claiming thousands of lost school computers

December 3, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Hundreds – if not thousands – of computers purchased by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) in 2009 and 2011 are unaccounted for, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer said on Tuesday, following his office’s audit of the school system’s technology purchases.

DOE  says that the Comptroller used the wrong methodology, however, and that most of the “missing” equipment is still in the system.

The Comptroller’s analysts couldn’t trace more than 1,800 computers, and nearly 400 laptops and tablets were found still packed in their boxes at ten Department of Education (DOE) locations. Many of the errant computers were ordered from DOE’s Manhattan headquarters at Tweed.

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Stringer’s office looked at DOE’s inventory control over almost $200 million in computer purchases through Apple and Lenovo. The audit raises concerns that more computer equipment may be lost citywide, he said in a statement.

“It is an insult to families who are desperate to access technology for their children to leave brand new computers and tablets unused in closets and storage facilities,” Stringer said.

DOE says that while the audit showed some areas that need improvement, much of the equipment described as missing is actually at other locations. Each school or school system keeps track of its own laptops and iPads, and many are ordered at one location but wind up at another. As schools have closed, merged or had their buildings reconfigured, mobile devices have followed teachers and students to new locations.

Stringer said DOE needs to institute a centralized inventory system to keep track of all these computers – but DOE strongly disagrees. “Local administrators must maintain an inventory with an approach that matches the type and use of the device,” DOE Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm wrote to the Comptroller in response to the audit. She said that a single centralized inventory system would not be cost effective or practical.

The Comptroller’s audit assumed DOE’s Asset Management System (AMS) serves as an inventory system, when in fact it is not used as such by the department, Grimm said.

“The Comptroller did not investigate DOE’s actual inventory process and as a result the audit provides an incomplete and uneven account of the location of equipment purchased by the DOE,” she said.

DOE also pointed out that the audit looked for the computers “based upon the location of the purchaser, instead of, say, delivery location, a more reasonable starting point.”

The Comptroller’s Office, in turn, rebutted DOE’s arguments.

“The fact remains that even with months in which to do its research, DOE was unable to identify the locations of many of the computers selected for review in our audit.  In addition, in its response, DOE asserted that it had located computers. However, in making this claim, it failed to present any corroborating documentation.”

Two of the sites audited are in Brooklyn: Boys and Girls High School, at 1700 Fulton Street, and P.S. 105 The Blythebourne, at 1031 59 Street.

At Boys and Girls High School, 78 laptops and iPads, some purchased in 2011, were found in closets, unopened. In addition, the audit found that 16 out of 920 computers listed as purchased could not be found.

At P.S.105, five out of 534 computers were unaccounted for, and six iPads were still in their boxes.

DOE to ‘leverage’ existing systems

School officials are looking to tighten up, but intend to “leverage” current systems to track technology purchases, rather than start over with a centralized system, according to a DOE source. Central offices and schools have been asked to update or create inventory lists this school year.

DOE recently announced it was scrapping another centralized system: the $95 million ARIS (Achievement Reporting and Innovation System) system, touted by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in 2007 as a gee-whiz computer program to track student records and performance — but since derided as clunky and shunned by parents and teachers alike.

DOE is letting the ARIS contract with Amplify — run by now-former Chancellor Klein — expire at the end of the calendar year because of its low usage.

DOE Deputy Press Secretary Yuridia Peña told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that DOE was “committed to providing our city’s school children technological resources that enables them to thrive in the classroom and compete in a global economy.

“We are training teachers to use technology effectively through expanded professional development, working to find cost-effective and practical solutions that safeguard technology in schools and administrative offices, and identifying ways to catalogue all equipment to ensure we are using all available resources to serve our students,” she said.

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