WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – New Hanover County Schools have done a better job keeping track of equipment in recent years, but the system still can't account for nearly $400,000 worth of items, according its last inventory, which included items that went missing in 2012 and the first half of 2013.
In 2011, WECT reported that the school system couldn't locate almost half a million dollars worth of items.
"Your story actually comes at a convenient time because it is something we need to tighten up and we admit that," Valita Quattlebaum, the district's chief communications officer, said in 2011. "You won't see these types of numbers in the future."
Three years, later, Quattlebaum explained the district has implemented employee training to improve the way it tracks inventory.
"It is a process that we're working on. It's not as great as we would like it to be," she said in a recent interview. "Obviously, we would like to have zero, but that's probably not going to happen when you have an organization of this size."
Quattlebaum says sometimes items are sent to surplus or moved to another school without being properly documented. In those cases, the items have to be included on the list of missing property.
While bookkeeping is often to blame, sometimes items are stolen from schools in the region.
Last year, more than 100 iPads were swiped from Central Middle School in Whiteville. About $4,000 worth of tools and other items were stolen from Elizabethtown Middle School. And at UNCW, someone took two stainless steel birdcages, each valued at nearly $3,000.
While missing and stolen items run the gamete, so do the ways local schools keep track.
Brunswick County uses a computer system that provides a real-time count of what's missing from each school. The system currently classifies $89,536 worth of assets as missing, according to Spokeswoman Jessica Swencki.
When asked for a list of items stolen from a school in Bladen County, the system sent a handwritten list.
In Pender County, more than $14,000 worth of equipment was missing, but school officials said a list of those items wasn't immediately available.
As part of our investigation, we requested "a summary of property that was damaged, lost, stolen or unlocated from the 2012-2013 school year and this school year to date" from the public school systems and community colleges in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties. The responses included varying levels of detail from the school districts and community colleges. A summary of the responses is below:
Bladen County Schools
The school district provided documentation of two insurance claims: 1) July 2012; a walkway at Bladenboro Middle School fell, generating an estimated loss of $10,000. 2) August 2013; nearly $4,000 worth of items were stolen from Elizabethtown Middle School.
Brunswick County Schools
The value of the system's lost assets was $89,536.00 or .95 percent of the system's total asset value. Most of the missing items were computers and electronics. Other items included a hammock, upright vacuum cleaners, and a dry-erase board.
Columbus County Schools
The district reported that all equipment was accounted for except some items stolen from West Columbus High School during last school year.
"The insurance claim has just been awarded, but now some of that equipment has been recovered so some of the money will have to be returned. I can get you specific amounts, but they will be inaccurate," wrote district spokesman Kelly Jones.
"As far as damaged equipment goes, at present we do not track damage on an item by item basis. If an item becomes damaged, it is discarded," said Jones. "If there is sufficient evidence then reimbursement may be sought from the responsible parties either from the school or through law enforcement."
New Hanover County Schools
About 1.4 percent of the district's $28.8 million worth of furniture and equipment was not located during the annual inventory process, as of June 2013. The total value of the unaccounted for items was $399,067. During the inventory, the district located nearly half the items that had been missing the previous year.
Pender County Schools
In fiscal year 2012-2013, the $14,274 worth of equipment was missing and $3,379 classified as stolen, according to Joyce Keith, community schools director. A list of the missing items wasn't immediately available.
Whiteville City Schools
In the 2012-2013, four laptops were stolen from Central Middle School. The computers were outdated and were going to be retired at the end of the year, according to Assistant Superintendent Anthony Martin. Four missing laptops stolen from Whiteville High School were assumed to be stolen.
"We did have some damage to some of our student laptops, but we have policies and mechanisms in place for that," said Martin. "When you have 1300 devices in the hands of students, some damage will occur. I don't have an exact number, but I know that our school[s] have done a great job addressing these."
In the 2013-13 school year, "approximately eight laptops" were taken during a break-in at Whiteville High School, and "approximately 104 iPads" were stolen from Central Middle School. One iPad missing from Whiteville Primary School was believed to have been stolen.
Bladen Community College
In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the college had 1,007 inventoried items. Three of those items – two laptops and a section of a desk - were reported as missing, according to Jay Stanley, vice president for finance.
The college hasn't prepared a final inventory report for the current fiscal year, as it's not due to the North Carolina Community College System Office until Aug. 1.
Brunswick Community College
Two speakers and a welder were stolen in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according to Sheila Galloway, director of fiscal services.
Cape Fear Community College
Five items with an acquisition value of $12,324.92 weren't located in fiscal year 2012-2013, according to the college's most recent internal equipment audit. The items were a kiln, projector, welder, laptop computer, and projector.
Southeastern Community College
Four items were reported stolen in fiscal year 2012-2013: a television, computer monitor, computer, and laptop. No items have been reported as missing this year, according to Liz McLean, director of marketing and public affairs.
Stolen, damaged or missing items at UNCW in calendar years 2012-2013 totaled $36,475, according to a spreadsheet provided by the State Bureau of Investigation.