By Gena Blankenship
You may be making major school inventory mistakes without even realizing it. K-12 school districts have limited resources, leaving little funding and time for the countless administrative processes that seem to grow with every new state or federal legislative session. Taking inventory shortcuts is tempting, but can cost you time and money in the long run. These are the four most common mistakes I see districts make without even realizing it – and how to fix them.
Mistake #1: Not making inventory a priority.
District leadership must be dedicated to the inventory process, making it clear to staff that they believe it is vital to the success of technology programs.
Making inventory management a permanent responsibility of a district level department will ensure every site and every asset is managed with the same policy. The task fits well within the mission of a district technology support department. Smaller districts may need to merge the responsibility into a maintenance or finance function.
It is essential for the district to adopt an inventory management system (such as TIPWeb-IT) to ease the burden on those responsible for managing the inventory. This will ensure that employees will be able to get system training at any time, and employee turnover will not cause a break in management of the inventory.
Mistake #2: Using a dollar amount as the ONLY determination as to whether an item should be included in inventory.
Technology items often fall below the cost of “fixed assets” as defined by many states. But because they are purchased in large quantities (like iPads), the overall cost can be very high. Only tracking inventory above that threshold means you will not have data on significant quantities of asset with high overall value. It’s important to know where these items are and how many are functional at all times so you can prepare and budget for refreshes.
It is also important to track all agreed upon technology resources, regardless of how they were obtained. Inventory from grants and donations should be tracked in the exact same manner as federal and state funded items. Many grants require that items be tracked for a specific time frame, and also require yearly reporting on progress. In the event of an audit, you want to be sure the information is readily available. Members of the public who donate items want to know that their donation is utilized, if a request for public records arises and a district needs to show where donated items are used, having them tracked in the system is very beneficial.
Mistake #3: Not using standards when building the inventory catalog.
An inventory system relies on a strong, consistent catalog of items to be successful. Spend time determining how catalog items will be entered and how similar items can be divided or merged. Create consistent naming conventions so you avoid multiple spellings of a single asset type (e.g. Chromebook, Chrome book). Involve all your stakeholders in the development of the catalog! It will make all the difference in the world to the success of the system.
Mistake #4: Not conducting comprehensive audits
Audits are such an important part of a successful inventory system. In the K-12 environment, timing can be tricky because you need to avoid creating disruption in the classroom during critical instruction time (i.e. beginning of the year or assessments such as progress monitoring and standardized testing).
Planning is essential. For the audit to go smoothly it is important to have a comprehensive audit plan that includes all district stakeholders. Scanning teams need to go through EVERY room in EVERY site – this means all employees will need to be aware of the audit and what their role is to help things go smoothly. Work with site leaders to develop a schedule, then make sure everyone sees that schedule more than once prior to the day of the audit.
Never skip an audit! A complete scan of assets should happen every year. Inventory management systems help this process by automating the database preparation, scanning of bar codes and reconciliation. Don’t forget to work in smaller audits throughout the year by having technicians do random audits when they are in a classroom, or requiring entry/exit audits when an employee starts or leaves a position.
Complete the reconciliation process. Once the scanning is complete there must be a team that is dedicated to tracking down items that were not scanned, scanned in the wrong location or scanned, but not listed in the system. This entire process is vital to keeping the inventory system up-to-date, which in turn provides the district with real-time data that can be utilized as an immediate, reliable and complete source of information.
Whether you’re making one or all of these mistakes, they will have a direct impact on the credibility of your inventory data and how effectively you steward the public funding invested in education technology. Districts should make every effort to ensure they can account for each dollar spent, respond quickly to audits, use data to inform the budgeting processes and ensure that assets are utilized in the classroom and for the productive operations of the district. Don’t let these inventory mistakes hold you back!
Gena Blankenship served as the Director of Technology at Deming Public Schools (NM) for 20 years, growing the district’s education technology program from 900 computers to 6,000+ computers and assets. Recently retired, she enjoys working on projects around the house with her husband and spending time with her horses.