School districts losing golf carts, instruments

Matt Grant

School districts losing golf carts, instruments

By Matt Grant. CREATED Feb 27, 2012

FORT MYERS - From desktops to actual desks, hundreds of thousands of dollars in school equipment paid for with your tax dollars is missing, a Fox 4 investigation has discovered.

"I look at stuff like a golf cart," said Lee County School Board member Don Armstrong at a board meeting on Jan. 25, 2011. "Unable to locate a golf cart? Huh?"

For more than a year Armstrong has criticized the district's ability to account for missing items.

"Nobody seemed to actually want to look into this," he said. "And I kept asking why aren't we holding people accountable?"

Looking through public records we found hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing equipment including computers, tablets and laptops.

"This should not go on," said Armstrong. "This is the taxpayer's money."

In one instance, the Lee County School district reported losing $11,576 in unspecified furniture. We also found missing lawn mowers, projectors and camcorders, including a $6,960 Panasonic.

Then there are the odd tems: A $1285 refrigerator, a $16,845 dishwasher, a pricey $1,761 vegetable peeler, a $2,154 ice machine and several golf carts worth thousands gone.

"How do these things just go missing?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"Good question," said Armstrong. "I'd like to know that myself."

But the vanishing act doesn't stop there.

Lee and Collier Counties are both missing musical instruments - things like tubas, french horns even cellos. We did the math and found Collier County's missing musical equipment was valued at $5,826.

In Lee County, it was $30,857.

"It's always a concern," said Lee County School District Chief Administrative Officer Alberto Rodriguez. "I mean we're talking about property that's purchased with taxpayer dollars."

Superintendent Joseph Burke tapped Rodriguez to oversee missing items after Armstrong asked him to investigate.

Sitting in his office, Rodriguez said it's not "uncommon" for a district as large as Lee County to lose things.

"However," he said, "it is something that cannot be taken lightly. It cannot be disregarded or dismissed."

In Lee County taxpayers ate $692,085 worth of missing and stolen stuff last year valued at $100,902 when it went missing.

Collier County lost $151,468 worth of stuff which they say depreciated to $14,933.

The Collier County School District says most of the missing equipment went to the junkyard or was sold.

"Unfortunately proper paperwork was not done in the inventory surplus process," a spokesperson said. "And thus the items have to be reported as 'missing.'"

A spokesperson for the Lee County School District also blamed a "paperwork issue" and an "accounting error" for most of their larger missing items.

"A majority of those items it is a paperwork issue and not that the items are lost or stolen," said Lee County School District spokesperson Joe Donzelli. "In other words an item may have been beyond economic repair and a replacement obtained without the original item officially taken off inventory via the proper paperwork."

But Rodriguez says until all the items are found they're missing.

"I would not characterize it as an accounting error," said Rodriguez. "It is missing. And we as a district, we need to go out and we need to find it."

We showed the list of missing items to Shelly Osterhout with Computer Solutions of America in Fort Myers.

She says most of Lee County's computers were outdated and needed to be replaced. Still, she says they would have worked just fine.

"Taking into consideration the fact that some may be obsolete," said Osterhout, "...that's still a lot of money that the taxpayers have paid for and we no longer know where they're located."

"That is an exorbitant amount for the taxpayers to eat," she added.

Lee County says they have bar codes on all computers along with anything worth over $1000. But those bar codes can fall off.

Lee County's lost and stolen items are tucked inside school board agendas. You can read them below. We filed a public records request for Collier's missing items. You can view that report here.

See what Lee County Schools is missing: 

Jan. 25 (pg. 35-88)
Feb. 22 (pg. 25-34)
March 29 (pg. 163-191)
April 19 (pg. 43-55)
May 17(pg. 127-173)
June 21 (pg. 255-331)
Sept. 27 (pg. 49-79)
Oct. 25 (pg. 27-37)
Nov. 22 (pg. 43-60)
Jan. 31, 2012 (pg. 81-99)

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com