Tennessee

Missing items in Shelby County stem from outdated, unchecked procedures, superintendent says

Shelby County school officials said Tuesday that outdated and unchecked procedures led to thousands of items going missing, including cars, laptops and air conditioners. Those items were flagged in the district’s first external audit of assets in 30 years, released yesterday.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II and board members Kevin Woods, Chris Caldwell and Billy Orgel met with members of the press Tuesday to discuss the audit’s findings. The full audit with the list of missing items hasn’t been released to the public.  

Hopson said that the missing items were likely the result of a combination of factors.

“This is an audit of 30 years in two school systems,” he said. “Some is human error, some is theft, some of it is poor record keeping.”

Board member Orgel said that blaming missing items on the merger was “an excuse.” The missing items are due to “taking 1975 procedures and using them in 2013,” he said.

Woods said the audit was a “necessary first step” in moving the district toward more reliable asset management. He said the district did not intend to defend its practices, but to improve them. “This puts us on notice, and confirms some things we may have been concerned about. It gives us an opportunity to hold ourselves to higher standards.”

“We have to do better,” said superintendent Hopson.

The audit, conducted by ProBar Associates based on a list of assets provided by the district, found some 10,200 items were missing from legacy Shelby County schools’ 56,290 items and around 44,011 items missing from legacy Memphis City Schools’ 189,000 items. That’s 18 percent of the former suburban school districts’ items, and 23 percent of the city schools’. 

The items missing from the legacy Memphis schools were worth approximately $33 million. Those missing from the legacy Shelby County schools were worth close to $15 million. The valuation of the items by the auditing agency did not account for depreciation over time.

Internal audits in legacy Memphis City Schools had turned up occasional irregularities, which were dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

While the results released today alarmed school officials and board members, the initial findings looked worse, Hopson said. It initially appeared that close to 40 percent of items from the legacy city schools and close to half of the suburban district’s items were missing, he said. School officials re-counted objects and found some of those items.

The audit was conducted between June and October 2013 so that the new municipal districts and the merged Shelby County district had an accurate representation of their assets. This audit did not account for items within charter schools or schools run by the state’s Achievement School District.

The audit’s executive summary says some items may have been improperly disposed of, and others may have been lost over the course of school closings and the merger. Other items, including some cars used for drivers’ education programs, had been improperly tagged or otherwise misidentified.

The district plans to do what superintendent Hopson described as a “deep dive” into the 17,000-page audit to identify any “hot spots” or patterns where objects went missing. School officials will be asked to look again for missing items. The district’s auditor Melvin Burgess will also analyze its procedures and provide its plan for dealing with the inventory within 30 days. 

Hopson said terminations are possible if someone had willfully taken items. 

Hopson said he plans to reach out to AutoZone, FedEx, and other corporations in the area to see if they can help the district modernize its systems for tracking items.

The superintendent also said that the central office would plan to take on responsibility for improving its systems, so inventorying did not fall solely on the shoulders of principals. The district plans to investigate other school systems’ best practices for conducting audits, but external audits do not come cheap.

The audit cost the district close to $1 million. “The last media coverage of this focused on why we spent $1 million on counting things we possessed,” said board member Kevin Woods. “Now you see exactly why we spent a million to count assets.”

Memphis-area schools are not the only place where audits have turned up irregularities. An audit of Philadelphia schools last spring found boxes of equipment sitting unused in shuttered school buildings.

SCS Executive Summary of audit

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”