987 of 7,000 Chromebooks given to Manchester students missing, IT director says

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Oct. 13—Almost 1,000 of the 7,000 Chromebooks handed out to students at Manchester public schools last year for remote learning use are unaccounted for, the district's information technology director told school board members this week.

Manchester School District IT Director Steve Cross said improper documentation is to blame for school officials losing track of the devices.

"Getting devices to our students was our No. 1 priority," Cross said. "We developed processes and procedures for how to account for them — document serial numbers, parent signatures, make and model number before they issued the devices to the families. In many cases that did not happen."

As of Oct. 12, Cross reported 987 of the approximately 7,000 Chromebooks distributed to students are unaccounted for, with an estimated replacement cost of $376,976.

In July, about 2,110 Chromebooks were missing, with an estimated replacement cost of $727,950. Each Chromebook costs about $350.

Cross said his department is having difficulty tracking down the computers because serial numbers were either incorrectly documented or not recorded at all before they were distributed to families.

"Some schools were good at doing that. Some were not," he said. "Principals at the time were under a lot of stress, trying to adapt to what was going on with the pandemic."

Cross said his department is working its way through a list of devices they have serial numbers for, deactivating each remotely one by one — which has helped locate several of them.

Some were never actually missing.

"What we're finding, including in just the last couple of days, is when we disable a device, the school contacts us and says, 'Hey, you disabled my Chromebook,'" Cross said. "It turns out they weren't accounting for it properly. They had it listed as a missing device, and they had the device the whole time. As we go through the list of serial numbers, we're going to find more and more probably at the schools."

Cross told board members his department is working to track down devices given to families who have moved out of the district, which account for roughly $100,000 worth of devices that have yet to be returned.

Cross said the district hears from some families after their devices have been shut off remotely, allowing officials to check another missing item off the list.

The Manchester school district received more than $3.3 million over the past two years in CARES Act and ESSER funding to purchase 6,663 Chromebooks. City schools are in line to receive another 4,188 of the laptops from the federal government through the FCC Emergency Connectivity Fund.

The fund is expected to provide T-Mobile-based internet hotspots to families in need. The district also hopes to install software on devices to allow the district to estimate "end-of-life" dates for devices to better plan for replacements.

ESSER 2 funding will be used to purchase asset management systems, Cross said.

School board member Nicole Leapley of Ward 11 quizzed Cross on the possibility of using a system similar to the one used by libraries to check out books or using QR codes. Cross said the new asset management systems being purchased are made to be used with the Aspen/Follett-based student information systems already being used by the district.

pfeely@unionleader.com

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