As much as $138,000 in office equipment and furniture turned up missing from the State Office of Education over the past three years, according to a report released Friday by State Auditor Tom L. Allen.

Some 38 items were found missing this year; another 15 items were found in locations other than those on the inventory list. Missing items include computer equipment, dictaphones, typewriters, answering machines, office furniture, calculators and an overhead projector.What's more, record-keeping was so poor at the office that it's impossible to ever find out where the equipment ended up, Allen said.

"Some of it was probably surplussed, some probably ended up in someone's home and some no one knows," Allen said. "The record-keeping was so poor that even if we turned it over to the attorney general, they're just not going to be able to find out what happened. So we feel like our main emphasis is to make sure it doesn't happen again."

However, State Schools Superintendent James R. Moss said about three-fourths of the items missing this year have been located since Allen completed his audit. He said, for example, that $10,000 in equipment was found at a state rehabilitation office in North Ogden. He expects more of the items will turn up as the search continues.

"The audit points out we have not done good work in tracking the items," Moss said. "But that's different from losing the items."

Moss said he has formed a task force to study the audit and make recommendations to him within a month. He said he expects to implement all of Allen's recommendations. He also said the office will begin using a computer tracking system to help keep better tabs on equipment.

"We are extremely pleased with the commitment and direction Superintendent Moss is taking with the office to bring accountability and efficiency that I believe has been lacking at the office for the past several yeas," Allen said.

The office was audited after Allen received an anonymous letter from an office employee alleging misuse of state equipment and other misconduct. Allen said the audit did turn up serious weaknesses in control of equipment but did not substantiate the alleged misconduct, which Allen did not specify.

Allen said the biggest problem was that no one in the office is assigned specific responsibility for the equipment. The audit showed that $35,000 worth of equipment had not been located in 1986 and was written off, as was $55,000 in equipment during the 1987 inventory. Allen said another $48,000 in equipment was unaccounted for this year.

He said some people had equipment in their homes and returned it after auditors began their work. "If they had completed their inventory this year and then written it off, the equipment may well have stayed at home forever."

Allen said other problems resulted when some divisions of the office did not follow checkout procedures. The audit recommends that the office policy be improved to require justification for checking out equipment.