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I-Team Exclusive: Thousands Of Dollars In School Supplies Missing In Local District

By Charlotte Huffman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- You paid for it – so where is it?

Tens of thousands of dollars worth of school supplies are missing in the Philadelphia School District - and it may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Investigative reporter Charlotte Huffman is getting answers in this I-Team exclusive report.

The list of items that seem to have walked out of local schools is long, and the cost is high.

Among the missing property is a $2,500 printer, a Dell desktop computer worth about $1,400, a Sharp TV also worth about $1,400, an Apple MacBook Air valued at nearly $2,000 and a $2,500 heart defibrillator.

When the I-Team showed taxpayers and Philadelphia school district parents a list of the missing items and their prices many were surprised and concerned.

"That's a shame what's on that paper," said Philadelphia School District parent, Morgan Howard.

"That's wrong," added another Philadelphia parent, Jeff Dorsey. "Where did it go, is someone stealing this stuff?"

Good question.

The I-Team obtained preliminary results of an audit by Philadelphia's Office of the Controller.

In a random check of 125 items at 10 schools, auditors found 30 percent of items were "not observed."

That adds up to almost $88,000 in missing property.

And that's just a snapshot of 10 schools chosen at random for the audit.

If those figures hold true for all Philadelphia schools, then the potential cost of missing items balloons to more than $2.0 million.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz says previous similar audits show the problem exists system-wide problem.

"In a school district where teachers have to take money out of their own pocket to buy supplies and paper and where every nickel counts it's not acceptable," said Butkovitz.

The district faces an $80 million budget deficit for the upcoming school year.

It is possible some items are still inside the schools but are not labeled or are mislabeled in accordance with district policy.

But auditors found many of the items they looked for were nowhere to be found.

"Whether they were actually taken or whether the school district just didn't know where they were causes the same problem because they have to be replaced or else kids are not given the equipment they need to get a proper education," said Butkovitz.

The I-Team reviewed purchase orders and found that in 2013 the district spent about $1.3 million on more than 700 new computers.

Some of them may have already disappeared from the schools.

For example, 5 computers are missing from Bartram High School in southwest Philadelphia.

Of the 10 schools audited, Bartram had the most missing items.

The I-Team's requests for comment from Bartram's principal went unanswered.

"It's stuff for the schools that belong - where's it at? … Someone has got to take responsibility for it and do something about it," said Frank Bromley, a Philadelphia School District parent.

The I-Team went to district headquarters for answers.

"We need to do a better job to account for what occurred with the missing pieces and missing computers," said Fernando Gallard, the district's chief of communications.

"So what are you going to do to hold the schools and those principals accountable?" asked I-Team reporter, Charlotte Huffman.

We are actually freezing their ability to purchase any more items. So if you are getting a grant and you're not compliant with the accounting of those materials you've purchased - the next grant you get - we are going to freeze your money so you aren't able to purchase more items. Not until you are able to account for what occurred and where those items are.

Gallard explained that the district would freeze a school's purchasing ability until the principal is able to account for what occurred with the missing items.

"So if you are getting a grant and you're not compliant with the accounting of those materials that you have purchased, then the next grant you get we are going to freeze your money so you aren't able to purchase more items," he said.

The schools are doing a better job of keeping track of property from years past.

However, Butkovitz and district officials agree that 30 percent of property unaccounted for is not good enough.




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