By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The city's Department of Education is cheating private contractors out of money, according to a Brooklyn lawmaker, who is demanding that the agency make amends.
Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Bensonhurst) is blasting the Dept. of Education for what he said is the agency’s failure to pay hundreds of employees of private agencies for special education tutoring and classroom support services that have been provided under contracts with the department since the school year began.
Greenfield called on the department to immediately resolve outstanding payment claims with all tutors and classroom assistants they contract with so that the providers can continue offering these services.
Greenfield said that over the past few months, he has heard from over a dozen local residents who have not been paid by the Dept. of Education for services they have provided during this school year, and from parents concerned about disruptions to their child’s education.
Privately contracted special education tutors are known as P3 providers.
“It is shocking and downright unacceptable for the Department of Education to have so many unresolved payment issues with these dedicated special education providers. Unfortunately, it is the children who count on these individualized services that will lose out in this case, while at the same time these devoted providers are being taken advantage of,” Greenfield said.
“The Department of Education must keep in mind what is at stake here and get to the bottom of these serious complaints about lack of payment. We cannot afford to let this unnecessary and avoidable situation disrupt the education of thousands of special needs students,” he said.
One tutor, Aviva Levy of Flatbush, says she worked with the Dept. of Education for three years without a problem until this school year. She said she has received only partial payment in December for services rendered in September, and has not received any payments since. Levy said her situation has forced her to spend thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to cover expenses such as materials and books.
“It is costing me money to work right now, even though I did everything I was asked to do. I feel bad for the parents, who are frustrated because they cannot get the services for their child, and we’re also frustrated,” Levy said.
Greenfield said the problem arose when the Dept. of Education instituted a new billing and payment system used by tutors, without properly notifying providers of the new requirements.
“To have employees not getting paid for weeks or months is embarrassing for the Department of Education, plain and simple. These are individuals who are dedicated to educating students with significant special needs, and should not have to spend their free time fighting for payment they are entitled to. I will continue to push this issue until every provider has been paid and no special needs child is in danger of losing these services,” Greenfield said.
Marcus Liem, deputy press secretary for the Department of Education, said the agency is doing its best to ensure that the tutors are being paid.
“The Department of Education is strictly applying existing policies and controls to ensure that billings are appropriate. The department works to maintain a process by which payments are made to SETTS providers within six-weeks of receipt of all proper documentation,” he said.
“There are occasional delays caused by our need to request additional documentation but we are working closely with providers to make sure that they receive appropriate payment and that any delayed invoices are prioritized. Providers with questions regarding payment should contact the Dept. of Education Finance Office,” he said.