More than $2 million worth of Los Angeles Unified computers, mostly iPads, could not be accounted for during a recent audit by the school system's inspector general.
The review also found that the school district lacked an effective tracking system — and that losses could be higher as a result.
"The District did not have a complete, adequate and centralized inventory record of all of its computers," the report said. "There was an increased potential for fraud, misuse and abuse of District resources."
L.A. Unified spent about $67 million from July 2011 through June 2013 to purchase 70,000 computers and mobile devices from Apple and Arey Jones, a vendor.
The totals in the audit are estimates because, the report said, "we were unable to determine the exact number of computers and mobile devices purchased through the master contracts for the period under review because the information needed was incomplete, inaccurate, or unavailable."
The audit found campuses that had a surplus of devices and schools with no effective system to track who had a computer or who was responsible for it.
In one case, the charter school division said it transferred 30 laptops and three desktops from one closed campus to another school. But the second one said it never received anything.
And 106 computers from a closed occupational center could not be located, the report said.
At Dymally Senior High, "current and former administrators refused to take responsibility for missing computer devices," the report said.
Eighty-two computers disappeared from a regional district office.
Where records did exist, they were often incorrect, showing computers assigned to employees who had resigned, retired or transferred, the audit found.
For the most part, the missing devices covered by the audit did not include iPads that were part of last fall's rollout of a $1-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and campus administrator.
However, 96 devices included in that effort also were lost or stolen, with 36 eventually recovered.
Officials insist these figures, when compared with about 62,000 recently purchased iPads, demonstrate that L.A. Unified has now developed strong security measures.
The losses of the newest devices represent "a very small number when you look at the magnitude of the effort," district spokesman Lydia Ramos said.
A recent report from board member Monica Ratliff, who headed a committee overseeing the technology effort, warned that security issues still persist.
The inspector general's audit comes to light as officials say that they are prepared to send iPads home with students. The district has insisted that it can track lost or stolen iPads and also shut them down so that they are of no use to thieves. School police have emphasized the latter point as a safety measure to discourage the targeting of students walking to and from school.
Administrators briefly allowed students to take iPads home last year, but reversed that policy after students deleted security filters so they could freely browse the Internet.
Auditors considered a computer missing if the district could not show it to them or otherwise account for it. They sometimes relied on the honor system: If a supervisor said a device was checked out rather than lost, auditors accepted that explanation.
For example, auditors tallied 3% of netbooks as missing or unaccounted for. But they only verified 22%; they accepted that 75% were not lost even though they never saw them. Because desktops are less mobile, they were easier to find; auditors noted that they saw 85% of the desktops from Arey Jones that they were seeking.
Auditors recorded 31% of the iPads and iPad minis as missing or unaccounted for. And they only saw 29% of the devices on their visit.
The review included 64 schools or offices in reaching its loss figure of $2.1 million, a fraction of the campuses in the nation's second-largest school system.
In responding to the audit, district officials asserted that the actual loss was much lower. They insisted that they found many of the missing devices after auditors had concluded their four-month review. The auditors did not verify this claim.
The audit is dated July 29 and is posted on the inspector general's website.