(Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 28--Principals and other Shelby County Schools employees are finding significant numbers of lost or misplaced equipment, according to district auditor Melvin Burgess. By late February, he's hoping to lay to rest a troubling outside audit that showed the district couldn't find as many as one in five laptops, tablets and countless other items.
"We are seeing the reports; they are saying that the equipment has been found," Burgess told the school board audit committee Monday.
The next step will be to verify what inventory is at each of the district's 250-260 locations, and "clean it up," Burgess said, so the district knows exactly what it has, minus inventory Burgess says was sold in public auctions but not taken off master lists.
Staff has until Friday to turn in updated inventory lists, two weeks later than originally reported.
Committee chairman David Pickler said he is "disappointed" in the "pace of the progress."
"While I understand that all appropriate diligence needs to be pursued in this matter, I will be very much in anticipation of some significant findings and recommendations and resolutions from this committee. I think it is very important that we send a strong message to the taxpayers in the community that we are not going to allow this to be brushed under the rug."
Between June and October last year, Maryland-based ProBar Associates conducted the first wall-to-wall inventory of equipment either legacy Memphis City Schools or Shelby County Schools had done in 30 years. Its report to the school board in early December included 17,000 pages -- more than 56,000 pieces of equipment -- it could not find. When new, the inventory was worth $48.4 million.
ProBar also found that 32,409 pieces of brand-new equipment had not been tagged and therefore never listed on inventory sheets.
It was working off lists of inventory provided by Burgess' office.
Staff has said the audit was riddled with errors, largely because it was done during the summer when teachers were gone and most equipment was locked up. It was also done in the midst of the largest school consolidation in history. The auditors said they often arrived at a site to see trucks moving equipment across town.
Pickler says people want to discredit the audit by "poking holes in it. That's fine, but I want to make sure they can demonstrate the weaknesses. I am not going to settle for anecdotal evidence on that."
The audit committee's job is to propose resolutions and policies to tighten up district financial procedures. One of the most obvious will come to the school board's attention Tuesday night when it is asked to approve audits of school activity funds.
Watkins Uiberall, the board's auditor, found hundreds of cases of schools not following state rules for keeping cash safe. Dozens of schools failed to get two signatures on checks.
In Memphis alone, nearly 90 have missing equipment purchased with student activity funds. And others failed to deposit ticket sales from ballgames -- where thousands of dollars can be taken in one night -- in a timely manner.
The board is particularly aware of its exposure after the financial secretary at Arlington High was found guilty this month of embezzling more than $140,000.
Pickler wants the same "zero-tolerance" the school board has for drugs, weapons and bullying to apply to what he calls a "culture of inefficiency."
"There needs to be a serious review of how we change the culture, the climate around here," he said. "How about zero tolerance for ineffectiveness and inefficiency with the taxpayers' dollars?"
Shelby County Schools meeting
The school board's monthly meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the board auditorium, 160 S. Hollywood.
The board is expected to approve:
$1.7 million payment to The New Teacher Project for teacher recruiting/hiring through June 30.
Annual audits, including reports of student activity fund accounts. Audit of schools in the former Shelby County Schools shows several dozen violations of rules that would make it easier for money from ticket sales or fund-raisers to be lost or stolen. In the former Memphis City Schools, hundreds of incidents were reported, including missing equipment in 88 schools.
Paying University of Memphis up to $250,000 for tuition and textbooks for students taking college-level courses for 2013-14.
Paying Parlant Technology Inc. $250,600 for ParentLink improvements.
Legislative agenda, which includes its position against school vouchers, a change in "parent trigger law" that would make it easier for parents to convert schools to charter schools, and legislation to elect superintendents. The board is asking for approval to charge charter schools administrative fees for providing services such as transportation and special education.
The meeting will be carried live on radio (WQOX-FM 88.5), TV (Channel 19 on Comcast) and the Internet (www.scsk12.org/uf/tcc).
On Twitter, follow live coverage of the meeting from education reporters Zack McMillin (@zackmcm) and Jane Roberts (@JaneRoberts8).
At commercialappeal.com, find documents related to the meeting.
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