A state-approved tutoring firm that is in contract with the Department of Education (DOE) may owe the city $850,000 after an audit uncovered questionable payments and dubious timesheets, according to the comptroller’s office.
According to City Comptroller John Liu, Champion Learning Center — which assisted over 12,000 city students last year, including 3,369 in Queens — failed to submit adequate documents that proved students were actually tutored and received payments by the DOE for services supposedly performed between midnight and 5 a.m., the comptroller said.
“Taxpayers can’t afford to write multi-million dollar blank checks for tutoring services that may not have taken place,” said Liu. “The DOE’s lack of oversight not only shows serious mismanagement, but may have also enabled fraudulent billings.”
Under the federal “No Child Left Behind Act,” eligible students enrolled in schools in need of improvement are provided free tutoring. Champion was one of 52 state-approved tutoring providers last year. It entered into a $40 million contract with the DOE to offer tutoring services, primarily in students’ homes from September 1, 2009 through August 31 this year, Liu said.
“Every education dollar wasted robs students of the education they deserve,” said Liu. “DOE should investigate these billings and recover all the money the city is owed. Doing so will send a clear message to companies that do business with the city that New Yorkers will not be taken for a ride.”
According to Liu, Champion billed the DOE and was paid $836,254 for services reportedly provided during barred hours or at odd times from 2009 to 2011. Liu said auditors also examined a random sample of 164 attendance sheet cards paid by the DOE and determined that 10 percent did not contain the tutor’s name or signature as required, and 47 percent did not have necessary signatures by supervisors.
Abraham Sultan, president of Champion, said the company took steps to improve its internal controls last year and said officials are taking additional measures to improve record keeping and billing.
“We respectfully disagree with the Comptroller’s conclusion that a payment was improper even if services were in fact rendered based upon the hour of the day when they occurred,” he said, “but [we’ll] work with the DOE to appropriately resolve those issues.”
Education Department spokesperson Marge Feinberg said the agency will “seek to recoup all payments for services that were not permitted or that could not be verified.”