How poor asset management can affect school beyond budgetary matters
School seems so much different in this modern era than it did in my childhood! Children appear to learn so much more in much less time and in vastly different ways. Also, the backpacks I’ve seen kids carrying around seem to weigh more than when I was in school.
What happens when backpacks stay light because no one can find textbooks to fill them? Such a thing happened in Philadelphia, Penn., in 2009. Students couldn’t take books home because not enough remained to go around, or so they and faculty members believed. This perceived shortage led to complaints to the city’s School Reform Commission lead to a district-wide audit. These efforts found cases of poor management more than a supplies deficit.
Related Article: AVOIDING A SCHOOL BUDGET CRISIS WITH ASSET MANAGEMENT
Thanks in part to poor asset tracking, forgotten textbooks and other assets became found during the investigation. In the best cases, the district purchased replacements; in more cases, these misplaced items left students under prepared for their lessons or forced them to make due with subpar or outdated equipment.
Not only did this lack of proper storage cause artificial shrinkage, a lack of uniform management methods wreaked havoc on the district’s records! Some teachers chose to tally their counts on paper while others used spreadsheets and more still used personal ways known to no one else to compile their results. Factor in books lost over the course of the year and those unfit for further use and these counts could easily vary from one tally to the next.
Classroom supplies go far beyond mere textbooks today. Electronics such as computers and tablets play just as great a role in modern education. The price paid for them, though, often becomes even greater.
Philadelphia could not find $30,000 of computer technology along with another $160,000-plus in other assets in 2013. More troubling: The school system implemented a computerized inventory system after its 2009 audit failure.
Los Angeles schools found themselves with a $200,000 deficit in addition to more than 3,000 missing computers. Unlike its eastern counterpart, Los Angeles could not produce adequate inventory records for its computers. Instead, officials found haphazard logs and blank spaces for who possessed what piece of equipment and when they were checked out.
What to do about these missing assets? School budgets aren’t renowned for much more than shoestring sized. To replace these items would require sacrifices from other areas, some that typically come up short during budget preparations and tend to stand first in line for budget cuts. Take the arts : Drama, music, visual media, each one already subject to cutbacks and reductions, most likely to see their meager portions dwindle further thanks to poor inventory management or shrinkage.
Another question to keep in mind: From where did these funds originally come? City or county taxes? State assistance? Federal grants? While each of these sources calls for a measure of accountability, grants can prove especially tricky. Most funds obtained from federal grants require that whatever items are purchased with these monies must include documentation as to their locations, users, and all moves of said items.
Let’s use the L.A. schools’ missing computers as a hypothetical situation: Say the system paid for these missing 3,000-plus computers with federal grants. The schools can’t provide any definitive information as to the last known locations of these assets and may know in whose care they left them. Who do you think would be responsible for repayment of those grants?
On the grand level, the school district, of course. The money went to that agency with trust that the district would maintain proper records in case of an inspection. On a smaller scale, the last-known responsible party could find him, or herself, liable for the bill. The teacher could, and in all likelihood, will repay the cost of the missing equipment. This might come through garnishment of wages or repayment to the district, but the money will be recouped.
Should the decision need made, how do you choose between necessities? When your budget stretches only so far, do you upgrade your technology, update your textbooks, or increase your traditional supplies? Peterson, N.J., teachers asked for all these and more in 2014: Improved computer equipment, basic supplies such as paper and chalk, and, in at least one case, heat in the classroom.The school district drew from federal and state funds as well as another source: A deductions of $5 million from administrative salaries. Even with that, the question remained on whether funds enough could be found to help with operations.Would inventory management solve all of these problems? Of course not, nightmare scenarios will pop up from time to time simply because the unexpected happens. New regulations will take place of old ones and revise how education dollars are spent. Mistakes in bookkeeping will happen and an extra zero might appear that doesn’t exist.Can inventory management help ease the pains felt by schools, even when assets barely suffice?Yes.With proper management, schools can avoid artificial shrinkage and keep accurate, up-to-date accounts of their equipment and supplies. Instead of the end-of-year rush to get tallies in, a quick scan can automatically amend the asset database and avoid accidental miscounts. Detailed notes on assets can be entered for easy review to determine priorities for or to find out when the asset received updates. You can even enter the means by which the district or school purchased these items and maintain the necessary data for grant compliance. No, asset management will not solve overcrowded classrooms. It may not directly impact standardized testing scores or increase graduation rates. It can, however, free up time teachers might otherwise spend on text counts or computer tallies. They can instead focus on relationships with their students and the creation of bonds that foster learning.Consider the investment in asset management an investment into the future.