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A young student wearing headphones and working on a laptop.

Geoff Decker / Chalkbeat

Audit: City losing track of thousands of school computers, tablets

Thousands of computers and iPads that belong in city schools are missing or unused, and the city’s method of keeping track of technology is inadequate, according to a new audit from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office.

Stringer said Monday that the city could not account for nearly 1,800 computers and tablets, partially because the Department of Education doesn’t have a central inventory system for its technology, which principals are responsible for monitoring. In some cases, technology was found sitting unused — including 71 computers and seven iPads being kept in storage at the beleaguered Boys and Girls High School.

“This is an insult to families that are desperate to have access to school technology,” Stringer said Monday. “I think this audit categorically proves that DOE needs a central inventory system for computer hardware.”

The city said the comptroller’s methodology was flawed, and noted the difficulty of keeping close track of hundreds of thousands of items which travel with school employees and often changes hands as schools move or close. But the audit raises questions about how the city accounts for its sprawling infrastructure just as the city is likely to receive new funding for technology from the Smart Schools Bond Act and as schools begin preparing for students to take state exams online in the coming years.

The investigation was aimed at locating the computers and tablets bought under a 2009 contract with Apple and a 2011 contract with Lenovo, which together accounted for $197 million in spending. That paid for more than 211,000 pieces of computer hardware, according to city records cited by the audit, though the comptroller’s office looked specifically at hardware at eight schools that had spent the most on technology and the department’s central office.

In the official response to the audit, the Department of Education said creating a central inventory would not be practical, though a spokeswoman for the department said Monday that officials were looking into new solutions and would be asking principals to update their inventory lists.