Inspector general’s report prompts Chicago Public Schools to propose changes to device tracking policy

Close up of two young students holding tablets.
Middle school students complete classwork on tablet computers. (Allison Shelley for EDUimages)

Chicago Public Schools is working to improve how schools keep track of electronic devices and other items, in response to an inspector general’s report that found the district had lost more than 77,000 devices.

The proposed changes — some of which were outlined at a school board committee meeting Wednesday — include disciplining staff for failing to abide by the district’s policy for managing school assets, such as devices, and updating policy language to say that training is “mandatory” for staffers who are responsible for keeping track of devices. The district’s asset management team would also create an annual report about theft and loss of devices, according to the proposed changes.

Last week, CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher released his annual report which, in part, found that the district had marked more than 77,000 devices lost or stolen in the 2021-22 school year. The district has found 12,000 of the missing devices, nearly all inside schools, district officials said.

Fletcher’s report cited a lack of training and an unreliable tracking system as some reasons for why so many devices were missing or unaccounted for. He also said staff and students were not held accountable for devices. Last year, a Chalkbeat and WBEZ investigation also found that the district didn’t have a structured system for tracking down devices and lacked a clear plan or vision for how to best use the technology in the classroom.

“The [policy] has been amended to reflect a more accurate description of the current process, eliminate sections of the policy which are obsolete, and overall improve CPS asset and inventory management practices,” said Rolando Hernandez, assistant deputy controller for CPS’ finance office, during Wednesday’s meeting.

The district’s asset management policy doesn’t just cover technology. It applies to any item that is not real estate, that is purchased by or donated to CPS, is valued at more than $500 but less than $25,000, and has a lifespan of more than a year. The current policy applies to schools, central offices, and network offices, which are responsible for managing their devices.

Each school and district office should have an “accountable official” who is responsible for keeping track of devices, the existing policy says.

Other proposed changes include:

  • All devices must be entered into CPS’ electronic inventory system once they are delivered – not just purchased – within 30 days.
  • Each person designated to track devices within their school or office will be responsible for complying with their annually required inventory and ensuring its accuracy.
  • Schools and offices will report potential loss, damage, or theft to the district’s asset management team. That team will share an annual report on such loss or damage to the district’s Risk Management team, the Department of Facilities, and Safety & Security team.
  • If a student or staffer transfers to a new school or department, any devices they’ve received from the district will follow them, which their old school or department must log into the district’s asset management system. Once students or staff leave the district, they must return devices and other “assets.”
  • Broken computers must be disposed of through a special process created by the Information and Technology department, though that process was not spelled out in the proposed changes. Items that are not computers will be disposed of by the Department of Facilities, including through contracted salvaging companies.

The board is expected to vote on the proposed changes in March after a month-long public comment period, which is slated to begin Jan. 26.

Separately, the district is also working on several other changes “to more accurately represent” what devices are in schools, district officials said Wednesday. That includes automating the process of recovering computers, which would involve freezing and sending notifications to devices that would ask students or staff to return them. The district is also considering replacing its current asset management system because of “functionality and data issues” that must be improved.

On Wednesday, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez disputed Fletcher’s estimate that the missing devices were worth $23 million. Martinez said many of those devices were old, bringing the total cost to about “a tenth” of Fletcher’s figure. However, he added that’s “not an excuse” to explain the lack of tracking at a time when the district added hundreds of thousands of devices to its inventory.

“It’s been great that now all of our children have access to devices [but] it is easy for us to not prioritize how we get rid of old devices, and it’s not always clear even to staff, and so I just want to call that out,” Martinez said.

Reema Amin is a reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org.

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