The San Antonio Independent School District is taking steps to ensure that staff members are held more responsible for keeping track of district-owned computer equipment. The changes come after an in-house audit of fixed assets conducted this year revealed that the district can’t account for nearly $2 million in computers, printers, and other devices.

That figure comes from a story in the San Antonio Express-News, which found that $904,142 worth of equipment and other assets has been reported lost since the 1996-97 school year, and another $825,529 could not be accounted for—a total of $1,729,671 in missing equipment.

Under the district’s current policy, each campus conducts an annual fiscal evaluation. According to Tony Juarez, associate superintendent for finance, San Antonio has an inventory category for lost, stolen, destroyed, or removed items, which is separate from items that are unaccounted for.

“Certainly, one interpretation is that some district employees did not follow procedure [when assessing fixed assets],” said Juarez. “We believe a number of forms were not completed that would have accounted for the missing items. Also, some reports are still in progress.”

He also noted that the $1.7 million figure quoted in the Express-News includes three years of losses and mis-filings. “The self-evaluations are conducted annually, but some of those items were unaccounted for in previous years,” he said.

Juarez could not say why the unaccounted-for items were not caught in a previous year’s audit. “That is one of the things we need to establish now,” he said.

Most district officials agree that the problem does not lie with excessive criminal activity or theft.

“I think that someone is not doing what they were supposed to be doing. Over the years, the equipment could have been destroyed, or it’s laying in a closet somewhere. It doesn’t mean there is criminal activity involved,” trustee James Howard told local reporters.

“A few years ago we did a massive replacement of computer equipment at the high school level, and we hired a company to install the new computers and replace the old ones. It’s believed that the proper paperwork did not get filled out when the old computers were removed,” said Juarez.

Juarez also explained that the losses occurred over a three-year period, before he came to the district. “One thing I need to clarify is that I started in March 2000, and I just can’t speak to things that happened before that,” he said. “One of the reasons I was hired was to work on these issues.”

In response to alarmed citizens and school board trustees, however, Juarez and the district are taking measures to revamp the old accountability policy for fixed assets and to determine where the old system went awry.

“Basically, we are now conducting a full self-evaluation of all assets, in all departments,” Juarez said.

The district has come up with a plan for re-evaluating an audit system that seems to have failed thus far.

“We’ve had a meeting with principals and department heads already and we plan to have another one [Sept. 21], in which we will provide them with a complete list of their inventory,” Juarez said.

Principals and department heads were instructed to go back to their campuses and pour over their entire inventory. They will report their inventory to the district in three weeks at the latest.

“We have to do this right away. We just can’t afford to wait,” said Juarez.

As part of the proposed revision of its audit system, district officials have created a fixed assets accountability team that includes the superintendent and his staff, about 25 principals, and members of the district’s police, technology, fixed assets, and plant and operations departments.

The team will be responsible for reviewing the results of the individual campus audits and using those results to do a more comprehensive review of the district’s current policies and procedures for tracking fixed assets.

Once the accountability team has reached some conclusions, Juarez said it will recommend that the school board adopt a new fiscal management and accountability policy that will do three things.

“First, it will define responsibility for the fiscal policy of each campus, including fixed assets, textbooks, budget, and the student activity fund,” he said.

“Second, the finance department will issue an annual fiscal management accountability report for each principal and department supervisor on campus.”

Finally, this report will reflect a rating for each area (fixed assets, textbooks, budget, and student activity fund) and will assign an overall rating for the school. The ratings will range from one to four and will rate acceptable and unacceptable levels of discrepancy in fixed assets.

“A principal or department supervisor who receives a rating of ‘unacceptable’ will be given one year to correct the situation,” said Juarez. “If they receive an ‘unacceptable’ rating again the next year, that principal or department chairperson’s position will come under review.”

The district is looking at technological solutions to tracking fixed assets, Juarez added.

“Our equipment has bar codes, but right now we do not have the equipment to read the bar codes. When we purchase new administrative software we hope to find [a package] that integrates with the bar code reading system, so that when a new item is purchased, the system automatically updates,” he said. “Right now, none of our software [systems] can talk to each other. Our system is probably 20 or 30 years behind.”

Links:

San Antonio Independent School District
http://www.saisd.net