Thousands of dollars worth of computer and electronics equipment is missing from the U.S. elementary and high schools on the Navy base in Sigonella, Sicily, officials said.

Officials from the Department of Defense Dependents School-Europe, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Italian Carabinieri have been investigating the schools’ missing inventory since May.

“This does impact educational programs,” said Nadine Sapiente, Sigonella’s elementary school principal. “This year, I’m using funds to replace what is missing when I could be buying new equipment.”

School officials can’t account for electronic equipment including laptops, digital cameras, projectors, printers and various sound and lighting equipment, according to a statement by Sapiente and Sonny Bertsinger, the high school principal.

“After reviewing the inventory some of the property was located,” reads the statement, which did not detail what equipment has been found and what remains missing.

Officials declined to disclose the total value of the missing equipment bought for the school system through appropriated funds saying it’s part of the investigation. However, school employees familiar with the lost inventory said it’s about $100,000.

Sapiente and Bertsinger declined to provide details on how the equipment might have disappeared, but did describe what safeguards were in place.

“Equipment was secured in locked locations. In some cases double locks were used. Locks were changed to limit key access. The keys were in controlled locations and signed out only for use to avoid duplication. We cannot comment on any on-going investigation,” their joint statement explained.

Equipment began disappearing late last school year, and it appears that the bulk of the electronic and computer equipment disappeared during the summer months when school was out, said Brigadier Antonino Pavone, a member of the investigative team of the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police.

His office, based in Sigonella, is part of a unit assigned to the Italian air force, which hosts on its base U.S. Naval Air Station Sigonella.

“A bit of everything, from computers to other electronics,” is missing from the schools, Pavone said. It is routine for U.S. officials to include host nation investigators and to often let them lead investigations, he explained.

The new high school — Sigonella Middle & High School — opened in February. The disappearance of some property was noticed after the summer recess. More property was found missing from a temporary building housing the elementary school, according to the principals’ statement.

The new elementary school, Stephen Decatur Elementary School, is under construction and projected to be completed by August 2008.

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