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Tutoring Company Slammed in Audit Seeks $28M City Contract

By Julie Shapiro | September 7, 2012 3:42pm | Updated on September 8, 2012 12:07pm
A tutoring company that was found to have
A tutoring company that was found to have "questionable" billing practices is up for a new city contract.
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NEW YORK — A tutoring company that was caught billing the city for unlikely late-night sessions could soon get another nearly $28 million in public funds.

Champion Learning Center — which City Comptroller John Liu said in May had received more than $858,000 in "questionable payments" from the Department of Education for tutoring sessions that were not properly documented — is now seeking another one-year contract with the city worth $27.8 million, according to DOE documents.

The tutoring company is one of dozens the city pays to provide extra support to high-need children — but Liu singled it out in his May audit for billing the city for sessions that took place during school hours, which is not allowed, and between midnight and 5 a.m., which Liu found unlikely.

Although both the Department of Education and Champion Learning Center agreed to make changes after the audit, Liu questioned Friday whether the company should receive more public money.

"Our audit uncovered highly questionable bills that this company charged to the City, which were then paid by the DOE even with its anemic oversight of the company's work," Liu said in a statement.

"The DOE shouldn’t pay them another penny of taxpayer money until the DOE can demonstrate it has corrected these serious problems."

In a response to the audit, the DOE agreed to ask Champion Learning Center to pay back the $858,779 Liu identified as improperly documented.

Champion Learning Center released a statement Friday saying it had returned the money.

"While we disagreed with some of the Comptroller’s audit findings, the DOE has been fully reimbursed for the questioned items, which represented less than 3 percent of the services we provided, and we have strengthened our internal controls to ensure that all services are properly documented," Champion Learning Center said in a statement.

"Because of the DOE’s pending contract process, we are unable to share any information regarding the current school year but are confident that we will continue to help meet the needs of New York’s children."

The Department of Education said the upcoming contract with Champion is an estimate and it's up to schools to decide which tutoring company they want to use.

"We have empowered schools to choose from a state-approved list of vendors to provide the supplemental education services — like tutoring — that their students need," the DOE said in a statement.

Champion previously had a three-year, $40 million contract with the DOE to provide individual and group tutoring to New York City students. That contract expired Aug. 31.

In addition to billing the DOE for sessions late at night and during school hours as part of the previous contract, Champion also had gaps in paperwork, including missing signatures, attendance sheets and progress reports, Liu's audit found.

Champion's formal response to the audit said the errors were clerical, and all of the billed tutoring sessions did take place.

The $27.8 million contract Champion Learning Center is now seeking will come up for a vote at the Panel for Educational Policy's Contracts Committee on Monday. The committee will also vote on more than 50 other contracts with tutoring companies, but Champion's is by far the largest — it's the only one worth more than $10 million, according to DOE documents.

The PEP's Contracts Committee will meet Sept. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers St., second floor.