Inspector's report says 77,000 technology devices in Chicago schools were marked as lost or stolen

Jan. 12, 2024
The devices were valued at more than $23 million; some were later found but had been unaccounted for because of a flawed inventory system.

A report from the inspector general for Chicago Public Schools says as many as 77,000 laptops or other devices — worth more than $23 million — were marked as lost or stolen during the 2021-22 school year.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Inspector General William Fletcher said 11% of the district's devices -- an "alarming" amount -- were marked as lost or stolen during 2021-2022.

Some of those devices didn’t disappear but were simply sitting on shelves or in desk drawers unaccounted for because of a flawed inventory system, Fletcher said. He added that the district rarely used a tracking system to find its computers despite spending $3 million on it.

Responding to the inspector general’s report, the district said that because it is providing a device for every student, some loss is to be expected. However, officials said they were “concerned about the loss of any public asset, and we remain committed to improving our tracking and device retention methods.”

In many cases, students and teachers were not asked to return computers, the inspector general found. The annual report highlights some egregious cases, including a teacher who was listed as losing 10 computers in one year; eight of those were later found just sitting in the school.

Not only can an incorrect listing cause the school system to make unnecessary purchases, it also “increases the risk that the asset will eventually become permanently lost or stolen,” the inspector general said. "This is a dangerous practice."

The school district says it is enhancing and streamlining its inventory system, and plans to hold principals and other staff accountable for complying with the asset management policy, according to a statement.

The inspector general's report also recommends that the district try to recover lost or stolen devices. The district said it sent “recovery” messages this summer to 50,000 devices that had been reported lost or stolen over the last several years. About 12,000 were brought back. 

The school system also spends $2.6 million annually on services that enable the district to freeze devices or to geo-track them, but in the school year that ended in June 2022, only 11 devices were recovered using those services, according to the inspector general's report. 

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