When a company receives funding that is earmarked to be used for a special education program, it is expected that it spends the money to improve its special education program. Some companies in New York, however, instead chose to spend the funding on salary, rent, and a vacation home in the Poconos.
In New York, the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, is in the process of conducting a total of 18 audits of the preschool special education program. The system is set up in a way that relies almost entirely on private contractors, who come from for-profit companies.
A school, or pre-school requires the services of a speech, physical, or occupational therapist. The company sends them one. The state pays for the cost, and allows the contractors to pay back overcharges over time. This has led to abuse of the system.
The companies employ “special education itinerant teaches”, or SEIT, who provide instruction at day-care centers, preschools, or homes. The companies can charge up to $122 an hour for the service. There have been situations where a yearly bill for one child can exceed $100,000.
There is a company in the Bronx called Important Steps Inc., which is owned by Zhanna (also known as Janet) Reznik and her husband, David Shapiro. An audit done by the office if Mr. DiNapoli of that company’s 2007 – 2008 records found that the company over billed by hundreds of dollars in that year alone.
Mr. DiNapoli said:
“This money was intended to give our most vulnerable children the services they needed. Instead, the money was used for contractors to landscape their second homes or for no-show jobs. Special-needs kids were shortchanged by contractors that had figured out to game the system.”
The owners of Important Steps Inc., spent “several thousand dollars on floor tiles, trees and shrubs to renovate and landscape their second home in the Poconos”, according to the audit.
Another company, called Special Education Associates Inc., of Brooklyn, New York, also is in trouble. The owner, Samuel J. Bernstein, used the money to pay his wife, Deena, $150,000 a year as his assistant executive director. This was at a time when she was making $90,000 a year, full-time, at Lehman College of CUNY as a professor of speech, language, and hearing services.
There are upcoming court cases that will deal with the charges that these companies are facing. There are more audits going on. It is really sad to see that the money that was intended to help out children who have special needs isn’t being spent the way it was supposed to be.
Image by Images_of_Money on Flickr