SAN DIEGO - Thousands of dollars' worth of welding equipment vanished from Sweetwater High School. Montgomery High School was missing cameras, computers and other items, and Hilltop Middle School can't find its Sony PlayStation.
These are just some of the items listed as missing in an inventory report Team 10 obtained through a public records request from the Sweetwater Union High School District.
The district came up short approximately $64,835 worth of items paid for with tax dollars.
"That might sound like a lot, but if you look at it percentage-wise, it's .0009 percent of our inventory," said district spokesman Manny Rubio. "Less than one-thousandth of a percent."
Most items on the list were technology oriented. All items on the missing inventory list were valued at $200 or more. California Education Code requires all items worth more than $500 be included in inventory audits.
With the exception of $8,800 worth of welding tools, SUHSD's list was pretty ordinary, except for the letter that came from the district's internal auditor. The letter, written to Superintendent Karen Janney, tells how the district hired an outside auditing firm to tally up the district's inventory. That audit was in addition to the audit already conducted by the district.
The inventory lists were compared, and the letter states the "sites/departments believe the missing inventory is due to lost, stolen or broken assets that were not reported and therefore were not updated in the inventory system."
The letter concludes: "A process between sites and the district needs to be developed so that all items that are removed from inventory are reported and immediately updated in the system."
Internal Auditor Frances Martinez wrote that she is working with staff to "create and implement a process."
Rubio told Team 10 the district is working to improve all of its systems to better serve students. He said part of that effort was hiring a third-party company to audit the inventory. After the audit, the district did a complete follow-up, locating many of the items initially believed to be missing.
"We look at it as we were doing what was required and we were doing a good job, but it's kind of like when you go to a mechanic and the mechanic says for $100, I'll make your car run, but for $200, I'll make it run really well. A lot of times, unfortunately as school systems, we're stuck in terms of our budgets."
The Missing Inventories
In the summer 2015, Team 10 filed public records requests with three of San Diego County's largest school districts to find out about missing inventories over the previous five school years. Both San Diego Unified and Poway Unified supplied long lists. Sweetwater claimed the district had no "responsive" records.
A year later, Team 10 sent out another series of requests for inventory losses during the 2015-2016 school year. We asked six districts to share the records, and most of them did, including Sweetwater. We also asked Sweetwater to provide us with the previous five years that they didn't give us in 2015.
Sweetwater only gave us the most recent year, raising questions about whether those documents exist.
When asked why Team 10 was denied those documents, this was Rubio's reply: "Because this was actually the first time we went with this 3rd-party company. So districts are required to do this internally, and most of them do. This was an additional step that we took this past year and it was really about, honestly, it was about staffing and timing and part of that was we wanted to make sure that we gave our staff enough time to look through that inventory of what's out there and also just making sure that we were taking a step above what everyone else was required So with that in mind, we're required to do a certain level of maintenance and what education code requires us to do, we just did a little something extra."
Team 10 reached out to the San Diego County Board of Education and the California Board of Education. The County Board of Education was not able to tell us whether there is any penalty for school districts that don't take proper inventories as required by education code.
The state Board of Education answered Team 10's questions:
1. Who enforces education code? Do districts send reports to the state about their inventory and losses of items paid for with taxpayer dollars?
Districts are required to notify CDE regarding loss of items as they relate to CTE programs funded with federal Perkins dollars, if the item was purchased with such funds. The referenced Education Code is reviewed during Federal Program Monitoring visits conducted by multiple divisions from the CDE. Districts shall keep their inventory current, thus identifying any loss of equipment on the inventory.
2. If there are reports, where are they filed?
Historic inventories are not reported to CDE but kept locally. Equipment which is lost or e-wasted which was purchased with federal funds, such as Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Funds shall be reported to CDE.
3. If a district isn't in compliance are there penalties?
Through a Federal Program Monitoring review, a LEA without an inventory as specified in Ed Code 35168 would be subject to a non-compliance finding which could result in the return of federal funds.
4. If there are penalties, what are they and who enforces them?
The CDE would enforce the penalties.
Other Districts' Missing Inventory
• San Diego Unified: Has not provided Team 10 with a list, but did say it would provide responsive documents within 12 weeks. We will update our report as soon as we get those documents.
• Poway Unified: Sent a full inventory list but says it does not have a list of missing inventory for the past school year, with the exception of a 75-inch TV missing from Mt. Carmel High School. The value of the Smart LED TV is listed at $2432.19.
• Chula Vista Elementary School District: Provided Team 10 with a Master Claim List covering the past six school years. The list included vandalism to property as well as some lost and stolen computers. The total losses for the 2015-16 school year came to $8,172.81. Total losses over all 6 school years equaled $128,368.32.
• San Marcos Unified School District: This district also said it had no responsive documents and directed Team 10 to contact the San Diego County Office of Education's Joint Powers Authority for the information. The Joint Powers Authority said it does not collect that type of information.
• Escondido Union School District: Allowed Team 10 access to a computer in the district office to sort through six years of very detailed lists of lost items. For example, on April 19, 2016, a $785 laptop flew off the car of a staffer as the car merged onto the freeway. In November, a bass clarinet worth $1,470 was stolen. Total losses during the last school year totaled $5,716.48. The district also recorded $59,269.62 in water damage to district property. District documents showed a rash of computer and iPad thefts in 2011 and 2012 totaling nearly $60,000.