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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Lax control of school equipment cited

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

The Department of Education has not kept track of more than $2.2 million in special education equipment and cannot ensure that it is properly overseeing all of its $373 million in physical assets, according to an audit released yesterday by State Auditor Marian Higa's office.

Since 1999 the public schools have purchased more than $13.8 million in computers, therapeutic devices, learning adaptive equipment and physical therapy equipment, but have not properly accounted for more than $2.2 million of special education equipment and funds, the audit said.

Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the DOE, said the audit means that some of the equipment hasn't been properly entered into the inventory books as "fixed assets," but remains on school campuses and can be accounted for. "It doesn't mean the equipment is missing," Knudsen said.

The audit said that as of December 2002, 79 schools and 31 department offices had not conducted their 2002 inventories. Lax control of computer equipment in some cases has led both to theft and the nonreporting of the thefts, the audit said.

"The department's lack of adequate internal controls over special education equipment and funds means that the public is not assured that these assets are adequately safeguarded and that errors and fraud are promptly detected and prevented," it said.

The audit recommended that the department update its inventory records, develop ways to hold employees liable for negligent loss of special education equipment and give schools better guidance on inventory management.

It also recommended that the public school system develop a new method for distributing laptop computers used by special education teachers.

The DOE has agreed with the audit's findings and the need for corrective action, but Knudsen also said that principals are so overburdened that sometimes taking care of children comes before taking care of inventory paperwork.

"The principal's plate is too full," he said. "Some of the things like inventory don't get done on time. It would be nice to recognize that the department needs some help. We're taking steps to make the process better."

A response from state schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto that was included in the audit said the department will review its inventory procedures and make changes.