Challenges schools face tracking assets and how technology can help.
GUEST COLUMN | by Brian Sutter
Advances in technology have a significant impact on the way companies do business – streamlining procedures and increasing employee productivity. That same technological impact can be seen in the field of education. As schools accumulate computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices to improve teaching methods used to address the variety of student learning styles, they find themselves responsible for high ticket fixed assets. Over the last decade, state and federal governments have placed many of those computers, laptops, tablets, and SMART devices (boards, projectors, notebooks) in schools throughout the country. In fact, federal agencies spend more than $300 trillion on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investments every year.
Schools face a real challenge in tracking equipment: knowing who is using it, making sure only authorized users take possession, and knowing where the equipment is at any given point in time.
When schools experience loss of this technology – whether due to misplacement or theft – it often turns out they can’t provide specific details on the missing assets. Schools face a real challenge in tracking equipment: knowing who is using it, making sure only authorized users take possession, and knowing where the equipment is at any given point in time.
Schools using outdated methods for tracking purchased items – pen & paper or Excel – are spending too much time and money on a process that is labor intensive, difficult to reconcile, and taxing to demonstrate compliance. Many of these schools are turning to asset management systems to overcome the unique challenges they face: financial restrictions, funding compliance requirements, and unusual time limitations.
A 5% cut to federal programs in 2013 resulted in a $727 million dollar loss of federal aid for public school districts – that’s $50,000 for each $1 million granted. School districts already facing significant state and local budget cuts experienced the negative consequences of less federal money: laid-off teachers/staff, cut extracurricular activities, increased class sizes, cut elective programs, closed schools, etc.
If a school’s budget is already incredibly tight and it’s difficult to purchase needed items, it may seem counterintuitive to spend more money. However, an asset management system is an investment that quickly pays off. Keeping track of purchased items and recording performed maintenance allows assets to be used for a longer period of time, and it’s required when using federal grant money.
The federal government requires any item purchased with grant money to be tracked, maintained, and disposed of appropriately. An automated asset management system provides schools the necessary tool for recording each step of the tracking process and ensures detailed documentation for compliance auditing.
Equipment purchased with grant money must be used by the program or department awarded the funds. Additionally, there are specific grant compliance requirements for this equipment:
- Property records must be maintained and include a description of the property, a serial number or other identification number, the source of property, who holds title, the acquisition date, the cost of the property, percentage of Federal participation in the cost, the location, use and condition of the property, and any ultimate disposition data including the date of disposal and sale price.
- A control system must be developed to ensure adequate safeguards to prevent loss, damage, or theft of the property. Any loss, damage, or theft will be investigated.
- A physical inventory or audit of the property must be taken and the results reconciled with the property records at least once every two years.
- Adequate maintenance procedures must be developed to keep the property in good condition.
- When original or replacement equipment acquired under a grant is no longer needed, disposition of the equipment will be made as follows:
(1) Items of equipment with a current per-unit fair market value of less than $5,000 may be retained, sold or otherwise disposed of with no further obligation.
(2) Items of equipment with a current per unit fair market value in excess of $5,000 may be retained or sold and the awarding agency shall have a right to an amount calculated by multiplying the current market value or proceeds from sale by the awarding agency’s share of the equipment.
Manually keeping track of these accountability requirements places the school or district in a financially precarious position. At any time, the Federal government has the right to audit for grant compliance. An automated asset management system will track each step of the process and provide the desired evidence.
Once the initial challenge of allocating funds to purchase an asset management system is overcome, finding the time to record all of the details required, for grant compliance or for accounting’s general ledger, is the most significant challenge schools and districts face. By its very nature, asset tracking is a never-ending process; selecting a system that is easy-to-implement and easy-to-use guarantees continued use by the staff responsible for recording asset details and ensures data accuracy and integrity.
In addition to the time required to record asset details, schools are responsible for auditing assets at least once every two years; however, most schools perform a yearly audit. The difficulty lies in the traditional auditing method: taking a printed list from location to location and manually checking off fixed assets. Implementing an automated asset tracking system allows users to take advantage of the technology they’re actually tracking. Asset tracking systems that include mobile functionality (mobile computers or downloaded iPhone/Android apps) significantly decrease the amount of time required to validate asset information.
Schools that have transitioned to an automated asset management system have found that the unique challenges they face – money, compliance, and time – are easily overcome and the long-term benefits have significant impact on both staff and students.
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode Technologies, a productivity solutions company. Brian sets the strategic direction and oversees the tactical execution of the company’s marketing programs. Write to: [email protected] or visit: www.waspbarcode.com