The State Office of Education has been guilty of poor bookkeeping - but not of blatant misuse or personal misappropriation of office equipment and furnishings, Dr. James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, said Friday.

The office has accounted for the bulk of furnishing and equipment items reported missing in a state audit, he said.Moss responded to an audit of the office's fixed assets, publicized in late April. The audit, prepared by state auditors, reported as much as $138,000 in missing items during the past three years.

State Auditor Tom L. Allen said at the time of the April audit that computer equipment, dictaphones, typewriters, answering machines, office furniture, calculators and an overhead projector were among the missing items. The audit was prompted by an anonymous letter, ostensibly from an education office employee, intimating misuse of the office equipment.

Friday, Moss said he felt the audit was released prematurely, before he had had an opportunity to try to track the missing items. The news media pressured auditors for the details, based on letters sent to them, he said.

He shared the contents of a letter he is sending to legislators outlining the results of the office's attempts to locate items that were unaccounted for.

The audit report listed all of the items in question at their purchase value, Moss said, rather than the depreciated value. If the depreciated value had been used, the total value of the first two years' missing inventory items would have totaled $24,700 rather than $90,000.

For 1986, 52 items were unaccounted for in the report. Since then, 31 have been accounted for, Moss said. Of those still not located, the present value is computed to be $2,788. In 1987, 57 items were listed in the audit as unaccounted for and 38 have been found. The value of the remaining 1987 items is estimated at $987.

For 1988, Moss said, a total of $48,000 worth of equipment has not been located, but the annual inventory has not been completed. A thorough audit is set for Aug. 11.

"I am confident we will be able to locate all of the items currently listed as missing when we conduct our inventory this summer," Moss said. He said there is no evidence that equipment was taken from the office for personal use, except for particular items that are used on state office business.

The superintendent said significant changes in the department account for much of the "missing" equipment. It has moved from one area to another as personnel was reassigned, he said.

Although he took exception to some of the procedures used in the audit, Moss said his department welcomed the opportunity to review check-out and inventory procedures and will institute more stringent controls in the future.

An office task force, headed by Laurie Chiver, new finance director, will implement the auditors' suggestions and directions, he said.

Chivers said the six-member task force has met three times and is preparing office policy to gain better control over fixed assets inventories. Training seminars will be conducted for department personnel.

Moss said when new policies are implemented, the education office will have "a far more secure position regarding our fixed assets than is customarily required in state government or the private sector."

Moss, whose office has been the target of more than one negative audit this year, said he is moving toward implementation of tighter controls on time, projects, finances and every area of office functions.

He was sensitive to comparisons between the inventory audit and current problems at the Timpanogos Mental Health Clinic, where gross misuse of funds was uncovered by state auditors.

To characterize the two state audits "in the same light . . . would be erroneous and undeserved," he said.