Lost or damaged assets cost the average school system nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year, including nearly $80,000 a year in technology equipment alone, according to a new study by market research firm Quality Education Data (QED). Large districts lose even more, the study says–some as much as $1.4 million in assets per year.

The study was commissioned by Follett Software Co., a maker of library and asset management software. Follett says the results point to the importance of having a solution that can centralize the management of district resources more effectively.

QED surveyed 479 district business managers, administrators, and technology chiefs in all 48 contiguous states. Respondents were asked about the problems they face in managing assets and the systems they use to keep track of their equipment. They also were asked to estimate the cost of loss, damage, or redundant purchases of these assets. The study found that investments in educational technology, primarily computer and AV equipment, are among the assets most at risk. According to the study, the average district loses more than $80,000 in such ed-tech equipment annually.

Districts that use manual tracking of computers and other equipment reported a 41-percent greater annual cost of lost or damaged goods than those using a commercial asset tracking program, and 32-percent greater loss than those using a spreadsheet or database program.

The study also found that districts typically have no single technique for managing assets, but often use multiple systems depending on the assets. The results show that districts struggle with finding the time, money, personnel, and tools to keep track of assets, Follett said.

Rich Kaestner, total cost of ownership (TCO) expert for the Consortium for School Networking, an ed-tech leadership organization, said effective asset management is important for knowing how to manage school budgets more effectively.

“Typically, schools don’t have that kind of information in one place. For schools that are interested in total cost of ownership, asset management tools are great for understanding that,” Kaestner said.

“I ask [clients] if they have any kind of centralized asset management versus a site-based inventory system,” he added. “Most of them at least understand what their inventory is, how old it is, and about what they paid for it. Very few of them have a formalized asset management kind of tool. Most will pull out a spreadsheet somewhere. That spreadsheet will include a serial number, an asset tag number–that sort of thing. They don’t go too far beyond that. … When you look at the loss, it’s not only the dollar value of the hardware, it’s also the loss of people’s time and energy to replace things.”

Besides Follett, MAXIMUS Inc.–maker of the SchoolMAX student information system–offers an asset management program for schools, called AssetMAXX. In addition, several companies–such as Symantec, Altiris, and Hewlett-Packard Co.–make IT asset management software that can keep track of computer and software inventory; some even market systems that can track all assets connected to a school district’s computer network. A number of other firms are cited at a web site of the Asset Management Software Organization (see link below).

George Araya, technology director for Desert Sands Unified School District in La Quinta, Calif., said he has noted a significant improvement in efficiency in his 27,000-student district since implementing Follett’s Destiny Asset Manager software.

Before using the software, “we didn’t have any asset management system; nothing was centralized. It was impossible to be accurate,” Araya said.

Araya said the Destiny system, which complies with the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), has met his schools’ needs well.

“It’s targeted to education, so [the makers] understand the issues we have in education,” he said. “For instance, you know that the teacher will move classrooms at the end of the school year. The teacher cannot move [his or her] assets. Corporate-level software management programs don’t understand that.”