Audit: N.C. education department doesn't track textbook inventory

Posted July 16, 2010 10:43 a.m. EDT
Updated July 16, 2010 5:11 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Public Instruction mismanages its textbook inventory, so its difficult to determine whether state money is being misspent, according to an audit released Friday.

North Carolina typically spends close to $90 million a year on textbooks and instructional supplies. With budget cuts, that spending dropped to about $35 million last year and to less than $3 million in the upcoming school year.

Audit investigators found that DPI distributes the money to local school districts but doesn't keep track of inventory. Because of the lax oversight, officials don't know how many books have been lost, damaged or stolen and they can't budget properly for new purchases, state auditors said.

State officials also haven't established guidelines for how many years a book can be used before it needs to be replaced, they said.

"Nothing's going on to make sure as a whole this textbook money is being managed properly," State Auditor Beth Wood said. "You have no idea how it's being used – if it's waste, if the textbooks are sitting in a warehouse somewhere not being used and another county somewhere needs the textbooks.

"There's just nothing going on," Wood said.

Drew Fairchild, DPI's manager of textbook operations, said local school districts have autonomy over their supply budgets and what needs to be replaced.

"We don't micro-manage their money. We don't tell them what to buy, and we don't tell them how many to buy," Fairchild said. "It would be a tremendous waste of effort to go back out and look at all these school inventories, especially on used books."

Still, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said in her written response to the audit that DPI would create guidelines for textbook usage and would conduct an inventory check every two to three years.

Wood said more state agencies need to set up better accounting procedures so lawmakers can make truly informed decisions on budget cuts.