RPS spent $12.6 million on nearly 37000 student laptops; board chair wants 'proper accountability' – Richmond Times-Dispatch

Science & Technology

Since March 2020, Richmond Public Schools has purchased 36,783 Chromebook laptop computers for a total of $12.6 million, according to the division’s financial records system.
“The administration maintains that the purchase of 36,783 Chromebooks since March 2020 is fully appropriate,” according to an audit memo presented to the School Board on Tuesday night.
This month, an internal audit discovered roughly 20,000 division laptops are sitting idle and about 1,750 former students are still in possession of a Chromebook. The audit also found current and former students have multiple laptops, some as many as five.
The audit’s results raised questions about how many Chromebooks the division purchased and about its inventory. During Tuesday’s meeting, at roughly 10 p.m., the School Board received answers regarding the finances for the pandemic laptop purchases.
RPS fronted the $12.6 million for the 36,783 laptops through a variety of funds, including federal pandemic relief ($6.9 million), state funding ($1.46 million), the Virginia Public School Authority ($1.2 million), the general fund ($1 million), miscellaneous donors ($1 million), Title I funding ( $825,000) and Perkins Act funding ($100,000), the memo states. (Federal Perkins Act funds are meant to boost career and technical education programs.)
The $12.6 million covered the devices and “add-ons”: anti-theft, the technology vendor’s base fee, licenses, asset tags, warranty and more.
While the quantity of purchased Chromebooks slightly differs between the financial records system, the inventory system and the division technology vendor, the memo states: “We believe that AS400 (financial records system), provides the most accurate number of Chromebooks purchased given the connection to specific purchase orders. Tempest (inventory system) has incomplete data entry and it is likely some devices were delivered directly to schools during the pandemic and never were logged by TIG (technology vendor).
The statement in the memo walks backs a previous comment from Milton Parker, RPS senior internal auditor, who said earlier this month: “I just want to be clear for the record that Tempest is the source of truth,” to determine the division’s Chromebook inventory.
Nicole Jones, the 9th District School Board member, asked for clarification as to why earlier this month the district said it had 44,781 Chromebooks on hand and Tuesday’s number was 36,783 laptops. On Tuesday night, RPS staff only discussed the Chromebooks purchased since March 2020, because prior to the pandemic, RPS had a laptop inventory, according to Michelle Hudackso, RPS chief of staff.
Of the 36,783 pandemic laptops purchased, approximately 31,000 covered the division’s 1:1 device program (providing a device to every RPS student). While RPS has an enrollment of roughly 22,000 students, the division purchased an additional 20% laptops based off enrollment for the loss/damage device rate, instead of the “typical” 10% during the pandemic, according to the audit memo.
“… Given it was not a typical time during the pandemic, RPS accounted for a loss/damage rate of approximately 20%,” the memo states.
The division purchased the remaining 5,600 devices or so for school and classroom-based computer labs.
There is a policy in place that requires students to pay the cost for any school property, including computers, that they either damaged, destroyed or defaced.
“It is on us to carry it [the policy] out now,” said Parker, the senior internal auditor, on Tuesday night. “That has to be carried out in the schools.”
While RPS extended grace to students who damaged Chromebooks during the pandemic, if RPS abided by its own policy, students would pay $285.51 per damaged laptop, Parker said.
School Board Vice Chair Kenya Gibson, who represents the 2nd District, doesn’t fault RPS for not sending home invoices with students. However, an alternative plan needs to be in place where a student who damages a Chromebook loses the privilege of having one.
“We have a student body that understandably is not necessarily in a place that they can pay 200 some odd dollars to reimburse the cost of a Chromebook,” Gibson said Tuesday night.
Hudackso said protocols were in place during the virtual learning year, including that if students repeatedly damaged Chromebooks, they received a tablet instead and/or were encouraged to attend the facilitated learning center and not take a Chromebook home.
School Board Chair Shonda Harris-Muhammed echoed Gibson on Tuesday, saying, “Proper accountability … some accountability has to be placed on our children, on our young people, just like in the workplace. It may not be financial; it may mean other means.”
jnocera@timesdispatch.com
Twitter: @jessmnocera
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